Published Sep 26, 2013For his directorial debut, Matthew Johnson takes on bullying by way of a fake documentary about two cinema geeks making a revenge comedy for their high school film class. Where the movie finds its personal spin on exploring the culture-wide epidemic that some people are assholes is in its consideration of how fantasy coping mechanisms can mushroom out of control. How much mental energy can one invest in dreams of vengeance before the step it would take to realize the presumed catharsis feels too small not to take? Ask a psychopath.
The titular Dirties refers to the designation Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) apply to every domineering jerk that makes their teenaged existence hellish. As outsiders with a specialized interest in performing, the cool-obsessed buddies make easy targets for insecure pricks doing the human equivalent of spraying musk on tree trunks to mark their territory. A manic extrovert, Matt doesn't exactly shy away from the attention, exacerbating the cycle of abuse and reinvigorating his identity as a victim.
Constantly spewing film references, mostly geek empowerment from the likes of The Usual Suspects and Pulp Fiction (but also including a rather funny Being John Malkovich gag) the budding young filmmakers display an aptitude for competent emulation, though they lack the emotional maturity necessary to convey the heavy sentiments they share in confidence through their chosen medium of expression. It's during a fireside chat with their guards down that the long time best friends touch upon the pain of being picked on with surprising poignancy.
The majority of the film is played as a sort of sad comedy. Watching Matt excitedly act out background voices and foley effects is quite amusing and speaks to a profound love of the technical minutiae of cinema. Though our pop culture junkies are perpetually joking, the film itself is deadly earnest behind the shield of tomfoolery, much like Matt. As it becomes increasingly clear that the knowingly unhinged director might be serious about his joking idea of planning a school shooting of just "the bad guys," The Dirties finds unexpected weight in a friendship strained by hypocrisy and delusion.
Even more than it insightfully addresses the cause and effect of bullying, Matthew Johnson's confident debut perceptively points a finger at the culture of avoidance that allows such activity to get out of hand. Recognizing that something is amiss within himself, Matt asks those closest to him if they think he's crazy and he goes out of his way to tell people exactly what he intends to do. Nobody takes him seriously, assuming he's just acting out. Its all-too accurate depiction of how the vast majority of people are too self-absorbed to recognize hints of psychiatric unrest or are too fearful or too lazy to extend a compassionate hand is what makes The Dirties a worthwhile entry in a commonly sensationalised conversation.
The Dirties screens with Toronto After Dark on September 26, 2013 at 9:30pm at the Scotiabank theatre. It opens theatrically--screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox--and is available on VOD as of October 4, 2013. (Phase 4)