Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Matt Johnson
Written by: Matt Johnson & Evan Morgan
Starring: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Krista Madison, Brandon Wickens & Jay McCarrol
I admire the effort put in by some filmmakers trying to make powerful films that tackle heavy subject matter. THE DIRTIES was directed by, co-written by, and stars a young man by the name of Matt Johnson. I’m not sure just how close to home the topic of bullying hits for him, but it’s clear that Matt is attempting to make an important piece of cinema. He’s not totally successful, but there are moments of greatness in the film that show budding talent at work.
Matt and Owen, two movie-loving best friends, are viciously bullied on a daily basis. The two decide that for their school project they will make a movie that is about them getting revenge of the group of teens that make their lives a living hell. The title of their movie is “The Dirties,” which also refers to the gang of their peers. After their film (being edited down by the teacher) makes the torment even worse, Matt fantasizes about really shooting all the “bad guys” (as he calls them) at the school. All while Matt’s plan begins to turn into a reality, Owen finds himself slowly drifting away from his increasingly unstable friend and falling in with a new group of friends. Owen tries to knock some sense into Matt and it appears just how much of a toll the bullying has taken. The road in sight becomes even more bleak.
THE DIRTIES is a first-time feature for Matt Johnson (who plays Matt in the film). Though there are some intriguing ideas on display, the movie also suffers from quite a few flaws. First and foremost, the character of Matt grates on the viewer’s nerves on more than one occasion. While Matt Johnson may be a talented writer and a decent enough director, he should have let someone else take center stage in the film. The constant quoting and referencing of other movies becomes a little too self-indulgent. To be honest, THE DIRTIES would have been a much more powerful picture if we weren’t hit over the head that Matt is a guy who loves movies and references them frequently. It should have been in the backdrop in some scenes, but it’s always front and center.
Then there’s the decision to make the film found footage. While it might have worked if Matt was filming himself, we are thrown between two cameras of two of Matt’s friends, who never speak or are seen on camera. I get that the intention may have been instantly making us an accessory to the horrible stuff that is being planned, but it didn’t jive with this film style. It seemed a little far-fetched that these two people would never talk and constantly be filming all the time. THE DIRTIES is a movie that might have worked strictly from a single camera run by Matt or as a powerful story told in the traditional way. There are times for the found footage technique and THE DIRTIES is hindered by this approach.
The ending is also very rushed and a bit anti-climactic. With all of these problems I’m pointing out with the movie, I actually thought the film was well-done in a few scenes, especially with Matt editing together montages of himself and Owen. The acting from Owen is realistic and we feel for him as he’s growing up, while Matt is unable to separate reality from film. Kevin Smith is distributing the film and while I don’t feel it’s “the most important movie I’ll see all year” (paraphrasing a quote from Smith), it is a glimpse at a new director to watch.
There are moments of stunning filmmaking in THE DIRTIES. The damn flaws bring the film down significantly though. I want to praise the concept and some of the writing, but at the same time, I want to be fair to the film and not neglect to point out the problems. It’s a movie that leaves me mixed. An interesting effort that I almost want to say is worth watching simply for the great scenes. An interesting failure, to say the least.