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Saturday, June 8, 2013


2013, 80 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler


Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2013 Slamdance Film Festival, The Dirties is the smartest, most original American debut film since last year's masterpiece Beasts of the Southern Wild.  It tells the story of two high school students who decide to make a movie about getting revenge on the school bullies by killing them.  However, one of them begins to take the idea too far.  This film was shown as part of the Rooftop Film Series last week and according to the crew who attended a post-screening Q&A, the film only cost $9000 to make and and extra $40000 went to buying music and other rights.  This is a movie that values story and ideas over anything else.  

This is a film that is so smart because it was shot using what looks like a camcorder and while technically a "found footage" film, it doesn't emphasize it.  It really needed this homemade feel to make it feel more realistic.  This movie does not feel like a traditional movie.  It just feels real.  Much of this is due to the fact that the filmmakers shot the film in real high schools and sometimes during real classes.  They (with the school's permission) went into high schools to film and pretended to be students to achieve an extreme sense of realism.

The Dirties is a fascinating comment on modern day bullying and what compels kids to commit heinous crimes.  The finale of The Dirties is a school shooting.  One of the characters actually goes around trying to kill the bullies that tormented him.  This is an unnerving and disturbing scene that is not graphic, but the implied violence is far worse than seeing everything.  While the killer is committing a horrible crime, he is oddly sympathetic.  The bullying that he endures throughout the film is relentless and brutal and he is such a relatable character that one cannot help but feel bad for him.  And this is where the movie gets scary.  The certain character who becomes a killer is a seemingly ordinary student.  This film shows that without help, any bullied kid, if pushed too far, can conduct a school shooting.  The Dirties gets into the psychology of a school shooter better than any other film that I have seen (even Elephant and We Need to Talk About Kevin which are both amazing films in their own right), and for this reason, it needs to be shown at high schools around America.  This film does not demonize the killer.  It humanizes him; a truly brilliant idea.

The film also explores the line between fiction and reality, as the killer becomes so engrossed in making his movie that he loses touch of what is real and what is not.  Everything to him is an act, something that isn't real, but seems to be.  This lack of distinction between his movie and reality highlights a big problem in America today: many kids think that what happens in movies/games/TV shows applies to real life and the line is blurred.  The Dirties' exploration of that is daring and original.

The acting by Owen Williams and co-writer/director/co-editor/co-producer Matthew Johnson is unbelievably realistic and the story is tightly plotted.  There is never a wasted scene and at 80 minutes, this movie goes by really fast.  In addition, because the two main characters are film buffs, there are references to numerous films including Being John Malkovich, Pulp Fiction, The Royal Tenenbaums, Malcolm X, Irreversible, The Dark Knight and The Usual Suspects, making the movie very fun for film buffs.  

The Dirties, while deeply disturbing near the end, is a very funny film.  The humor is abundant, yet the filmmakers didn't set out to make a comedy.  They just tried to make each other laugh a lot in the film to show their characters' way of coping with their life's troubles, making the film very enjoyable until a sharp tonal shift 2/3 of the way through the film.  Another admirable quality of the film is that the filmmakers wanted to make a film in which the parents are portrayed as normal and not the cause of the teen's psychotic break.  There is a single scene near the end of the film where one of the characters goes to speak to his mom (it was a real conversation with the actor's real mother, though she was unaware that she was being filmed).  She is shown as sweet, loving, and normal, not the typical insane mother of a disturbed kid.

Overall, The Dirties is a groundbreaking film about bullying in America.  It is the most honest portrayal of it that I have seen (the real student extras' reaction to the staged bullying scenes were real because they were unaware that the bullying was staged) and it demands to be seen by the American public.  It will open in theaters in the fall.


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