The Dirties


Director: Matthew Johnson

Starring: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Krista Madison

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 83 min

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 00:00


Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are BFF fanboy film-makers hoping to make some clazz of sub-Tarantino crime flick featuring the bullies – or the “dirties” as they call them – at their high school. The Dirties, we soon realise, are as persistent and casually violent as Matt and Owen are geeky.

Every incident at school only serves to cement the friends’ lowly status in the pecking order: even their “genre-bending” video homework is introduced by their teacher as “gender-bending”.

The outsider teens take refuge in their camera and in a scruffy revenge fantasy that incorporates footage of the real-life schoolyard brutality they must endure. “When something happens to you on camera,” the hyperactive, motor-mouthed Matt tells Owen, “it’s like it’s not really happening.”

That notion becomes increasingly sinister after Owen receives some attention from a longtime crush. An increasingly alienated Matt retreats further and further into character, wearing a Catcher in the Rye T-shirt, checking out blueprints of the school, reading Dave Cullen’s Columbine and visiting a gun range. Might his tormentors and sexual jealousy be pushing him over the edge?

The director Kevin Smith was so impressed by this ingenuous Slamdance winner that he released it through his own Movie Club label with a high-flying recommendation: “The most important movie you will see all year”. Smith isn’t wrong. The Dirties’ extraordinary transformation from a larkish, pop-cultured improvised comedy into the found-footage movie Werner Herzog might make is sly and perversely entertaining.

Director, co-writer and star Matthew Johnson deviously plays with the limitations of his lo-fi genre. Is there a third cameraman? Sometimes or always? There are meta-shots and meta-moments and dark meta-jokes. But somewhere between the crude Pulp Fiction reshoots and Matt’s increasingly heightened madness lies a film that is at least as profound as Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine or Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

It is also, unfortunately, a startlingly timely picture. Mr Johnson’s sophomore effort cannot come soon enough.