The Dirties Matthew Johnson

The Dirties Matthew Johnson
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After seeing Matthew Johnson's directorial debut, The Dirties, filmmaker Kevin Smith decided to help distribute it; he's called it "the most important film you'll see all year," and he might just be right.

It's easy to see on the surface what would appeal to Smith's own sensibilities: the DIY nature of the micro-budget film, the rapid-fire pop culture references. Like Smith's best work, The Dirties also captures the zeitgeist, perhaps better than some mainstream films.

Johnson plays Matt, a high school student who, with his best friend Owen (Owen Williams), makes an ambitious film about taking down the bullies in their school. The footage of the film-within-a-film is a mash-up mess: in one scene, Matt and Owen march through their school reciting dialogue from Pulp Fiction, at one point while impersonating Bane from Dark Knight Rises. They also quote dialogue from The Usual Suspects repeatedly without context. But this is life for these teenagers, and probably many like them: inundated with pop culture, they happily use it to shelter themselves from and ease the pain of being bullied.

As the violence towards Matt and Owen escalates, they plan a sequel that will climax with revenge against their tormentors. Owen is joking but Matt is too far inside his own head — swirling with film references and rage — to differentiate real life from the dark comedy he's planning on filming. The film shows, with unsettling casualness, the easy ways the characters plot and rehearse their revenge film. With its insight, it accomplishes far more than the recent, superficial documentary Bully; with its humour, it cuts deeper than Gus Van Sant's cold Elephant.

The Dirties opens with text that suggests it's a found-footage film, a worn-out device that the film surprisingly finds new life in: the jumble of footage of Matt and Owen planning their films, the film-within-a-film and the behind-the-scenes of their next project creates a lucid experience that feels truer than most straightforward narratives. It's an achievement in editing and an important step in the language of film that the YouTube generation will get; open-minded film geeks can immerse themselves in the hours of DVD bonus features to be further convinced.

The very specific Being John Malkovich reference the film makes isn't a fluke — The Dirties resonates deep inside the psyche.

The Dirties will have its official DVD release party on April 29 at Toronto's The Rivoli. You can also purchase the DVD here.

(Kevin Smith Movie Club/Phase 4 Films)