The Dirties Oct 23, 2013 7:40:20 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Oct 23, 2013 7:40:20 GMT -5
The Dirties (2013)
Directed by: Matt Johnson
Directed by: Matt Johnson
Director Matt Johnson in The Dirties.
Director Kevin Smith, who released The Dirties through his self-proclaimed "movie club," has called the film "the most important movie you will see all year" and he isn't wrong. The Dirties is a harrowing look at a subject no one wants to explore and that is the school shooting. Here is a film that takes such a subject and subverts it to the point of being believable and so naturalistic it possesses a rare documentary-style. The fact that it will go largely unseen by the public is a crime.
The film stars Matt Johnson, who also serves as director, co-producer, and co-writer, as Matt along with Owen Williams as Owen, two senior film geeks in high school. They are making a film project about a lawless gang called "the dirties," which is also the name they give to the school bullies who humiliatingly beat them up and harass them whenever they get the chance. When their film project on the gang is gutted by their film teacher for its excessive use of violence and language, Matt suggests they come up with a film where they actually kill the bullies in their school. Like, for real. Owen believes Matt is joking but quietly consents to devising the mad plan for the "fun" of it.
Owen, however, comes to the realization that Matt isn't fooling around. He has resorted to taking pictures of the people that bully them, trace rooms and the bullies' schedules on the blueprints of the school he obtained at the town village, and talking openly about the potential of his carnage with Owen as if he's achieving personal enjoyment from it. Matt makes it clear he doesn't want to go after everyone in the school; just those who caused him and his friend untold misery by mocking them when they were nothing but harmless and obeying.
First-time director Johnson employs the popular film school tactic that will either captivate or alienate you upon its arrival and it's the shaky camera. The camera is obviously handheld and held very loosely it is. Never does it restrict the environment, as it always seems to capture the right images at the right time. The effect only furthers the already naturalistic acting and dialog in the film. Much of the dialog, like many indies nowadays, was improvised and in a school setting focusing on two kids, one of whom is quietly out of control, this seems like the only method to achieve success through dialog.
It's also worth noting that Johnson's unsteady camera-hand always provides for an unsettling environment. It's hard to make a public school ominous, but with bullies and an unstable character in the forefront, along with directing that reserves as much as it shows, it's not too difficult. The film is so successful at being unsettling thanks to its camerawork that when the inevitable occurs it's almost not as frightening as what we've already indulged in. Then the last line is said that will ring in your head for days to come.
The Dirties works best thematically because it doesn't try to justify its characters, its antagonists, its events, or its cultural importance. It doesn't look to provide answers because there are no clear ones. It doesn't look to embellish or sensationalize because it knows this kind of event occurs, unfortunately, very often. It doesn't become politically-partisan, blame mental illness, blame the quality of parenting, or blame news and media. It simply shows the depressing and shocking effects bullying can have on a soul.
A heartbreaking scene comes when Matt and Owen are talking about how they've been bullied for many years but still haven't really learned to cope with it. Matt states that one day, in middle school, he was putting quarters in a vending machine when someone made fun of his dated sweatpants. Matt remarks about how he walked away with fifty-cents credited on the machine, not even putting more money in or walking away with any food or drink. It was the first time he was bullied for being himself, and the pain and torment hasn't ceased since then.
Constantly I was reminded of Gus Van Sant's Elephant, a highly-impressionistic film that based itself off of the tragedy at Columbine High School. The film featured little dialog, pretty empty characters, and scenes that didn't blatantly say their purpose - all of which an intentional tactic on Van Sant's part. The film was harrowing in its simplicity and compelling in its suspense that something was about to happen that was going to affect hundreds of young people differently. The Dirties exercises in a more open fashion, but, thankfully, leaves a lot of questions unanswered. At only eighty-minutes, it had the power and impact on me I don't usually get from films two hours or longer.
NOTE: The Dirties is now available on various video-on-demand outlets and will receive a DVD release later this year.
Starring: Matt Johnson and Owen Williams. Directed by: Matt Johnson.