REVIEW: THE DIRTIES / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: MATTHEW JOHNSON / SCREENPLAY: MATTHEW JOHNSON, EVAN MORGAN, JOSH BOLES, MATTHEW MILLER / STARRING: MATT JOHNSON, OWEN WILLIAMS, KRISTA MADISON, BRANDON WICKENS / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 6TH
It was fair to expect a great deal of social relevancy from Matt Johnson’s horror/dark comedy but this came as a bigger surprise than an arrow to the larynx. It is no wonder that Kevin Smith has wanted to promote this film to audiences. The Dirties sees two heavily bullied high school movie buffs fantasising about shooting their tormentors (whom they nickname The Dirties) for a school project; however, for one of them the filter between fantasy and reality begins to dissolve. There is no doubt that this masterful film will divide audiences, in fact it will likely get labelled as shameful exploitation. The recent string of American shootings makes this material highly controversial State side and universally contemporary worldwide. In this age of social media, bullying has been allowed to flourish and this unsettlingly palpable film will connect to many audiences' (and victims') emotions.
The scenes of bullying do not exaggerate – they are realistic, demeaning and nasty but it is the film’s accurate depiction of the onlooking school mates that chills most. Long before the inevitable climax, this is a pure horror, as these kids are persecuted merely for being themselves and their fellow classmates either join in or turn back to their mobiles. The Dirties is hardly the first film to tackle bullying; classics like Carrie and movies such as Chronicle, Tormented and The Final (among numerous others) have all focused on the subject. Yet this is one that does not use the subject to fuel a slasher plot or a bloodfest but to orchestrate a psychological thriller of sorts. Filmed and presented in found footage style (which ultimately is left bafflingly unresolved), the film has an uneasy closeness and the altering reality shifts create a rather disturbingly involving and delusional journey of dark wish fulfillment for the character of Matt Johnson (all the characters in the film are alternate versions of the actual actors).
Bullying can make good people into demented ones, a blunt but true statement and one that The Dirties typifies. This film is a wake-up call for the educational system and as grandiose as it is to say, for society. The tragedy is that the film’s social meaning may be lost amidst allegations of exploiting real-life tragedies and events. The Dirties is a very sharply written and devilishly clever genre hybrid (beneath mountains of Pulp Fiction-esque bravado) and deserves to be acknowledged as such. Thankfully, despite the doom and gloom of this review thus far, the film manages to work in some very funny dialogue and is littered with cinematic references that avid film fans will adore catching. The closing credits for instance are influenced by a vast array of cinema classics and are absolutely wonderfully worked in. It is hard to say that a film with such a potentially personal subject is enjoyable but it is, with Matt Johnson and Owen Williams creating an anchoring human core to the film.
Shot in a real school, with many classmates unaware of the shooting (pun intended), the ending is particularly authentic. This film has an intrinsic realism that is hard to shake. Never choosing to exploit the subject for splatter horror or a shootout thriller, this film focuses on the mindset of bullied individuals. Johnson’s film is enthused with feeling and is perhaps the most psychologically apt film about bullying ever made. The Dirties, while smart and well acted and written ,is a proclamation that says, until people stop demeaning and victimising others for being who they are, violence will only increase as will the amount of people swallowed by darkness. The Dirties is unexpectedly entertaining and even more unexpectedly urgent and compelling.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10