Director: Matthew Johnson
MPAA Rating: NR
Film Pulse Score: 8.5/10
[This is a repost of our review from the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival.]
Matthew Johnson’s The Dirties will no doubt stir controversy for its grim subject matter despite being a dark comedy. Any controversy aside, this is simply one of the best uses of the found footage mechanic I have ever seen and a fantastically laid out film as well. Like 8 ½ or Adaptation, it’s an onion of a movie that begs the layers to be peeled away.
At its core, The Dirties is about two movie-obsessed friends that are making a film for a school project. They are also shooting a documentary that chronicles the making of this film, and that’s the footage we see. The film they are shooting revolves around two friends killing the bullies in their school. After the movie is met with ridicule and the two become bullied even more, one of the friends decides to make a sequel, this time killing the bullies for real.
The found footage style in which The Dirties was shot is really what makes it such a compelling movie. The viewer is seeing a movie about a documentary made about two friends making a movie, and the director in the movie is the director of the actual film. As if that wasn’t enough, there are several scenes in the film that show the main character editing the actual movie we are watching. This structure is not only extremely awesome to think about, but it gives the film an added sense of realism.
For the most part, The Dirties is a comedy, and an extremely successful one at that. The two main characters of Matt and Owen (Matthew Johnson and Owen Williams) are funny a give natural and believable performances. One of the downfalls of many found footage style movies is that any bad acting will pull the viewer out of the illusion. Fortunately this isn’t a problem with The Dirties, as all the actors deliver solid performances.
While it is a comedy, it is a movie about a school shooting, so there is a very serious undertone. Before the film begins there is a warning stating that the film contains graphic violence so we know from the beginning that something terrible is going to happen, we’re just waiting for it. The slow and methodical buildup of this violent event makes the final act incredibly intense. Even though we know what’s going to happen we hope that it won’t.
My only concern with the plot is that it will surely provide plenty of cannon fodder for those that support the “Violent movies make violent people” mantra. What I’m wondering is how these people feel about a violent movie about a violent movie lover who commits violence. I’m certainly not faulting the filmmakers for this however, and I think the fact that they are movie lovers adds a great dynamic to the story. If anything, this should be a movie that sparks conversation about the other elements that act as a catalyst to cause people to resort to violence.
The Dirties is a fantastic film and an extremely impressive first feature for Matthew Johnson. It’s as smart as it is funny and has proven that there’s still some life left in the found footage sub-genre.
Be sure to click here to listen to our interview with director Matt Johnson.