Ostracised by the cool kids, two bullied, high school outcasts, film geek friends Matt (director Matt Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) team up to make a movie for a class project – a comedy about two best buds cleaning up their school by executing the members of the ruling gang of bullies they dub The Dirties. When the film isn’t particularly well received by their classmates, Matt jokes about the idea of shooting a sequel, only this time they’ll use real guns and the bullies will really die. He also starts keeping a list of the bullies who’ve humiliated them over the years…

A found footage movie that anatomises a Columbine-style massacre and plays like a knockabout teen comedy directed by Michael Haneke, championed by indie movie walrus Kevin Smith, The Dirties is an ambitious, if not wholly successful, take on the high school shooting phenomenon that ditches the downbeat tone of films like Gus Van Sant’s shattering Elephant, Ben Coccio’s Zero Day or Georgian director Ilmar Raag’s fantastic Klass in favour of something more audacious – a pseudo-documentary that blurs the lines between fact and fiction, between comedy and tragedy.

We watch, often wincing with embarrassment, as the two film themselves shooting their film, an amateurish, if enthusiastic, shambles replete with movie references and their favourite quotable dialogue. We watch as they lark about, obsess over girls like any normal teenager. We watch as they mess around with guns and fireworks. We watch as they are bullied and humiliated, beaten in the high school halls, have rocks thrown at them in the street. We watch as the bright, funny, hyperactive Matt slowly becomes increasingly marginalised and isolated, his eventual rampage perhaps precipitated by his one friend, Owen, beginning a relationship with pretty classmate Chrissy (Krista Madison). We watch as Matt prepares for his atrocity in plain sight, no one taking him seriously as he easily procures the school’s blueprints, gleefully checks out every copy of The Catcher In The Rye from the school library even tells other students that he’s planning a massacre, playfully asking Chrissy at one point if there’s anyone she’d like killed. We watch. And that’s the point; there are always warning signs that go unremarked, their seriousness only realised in retrospect.

A film for anyone who was ever bullied at high school, or was a bully, and let’s face it, most of us have been both at some point, The Dirties’ loose, largely improvised structure gives it a freshness and urgency that feels real. Shot in a real school with real students, the film captures a truth about teenage disaffection that few cultural commentators wish to address: that high school is a scary, violent place where anger and frustration simmer and almost anyone could commit the acts Matt does given the right circumstances. The naturalistic, awkward performances are fantastic, director Johnson’s Matt a scarily sympathetic psycho who sucks you in, justifying his actions with the statement “When something happens to you on camera, it’s like it’s not really happening,” as he increasingly loses touch with reality while the desire of Williams’ anxious Owen to fit in and still be true to his friend is palpable. When Matt’s actions cause Owen to flee from his friend in terror, it’s Matt’s befuddlement that’s heartbreaking as he chases after him asking “What are you doing? It’s me.”

While it’s never as affecting as Klass or Elephant or as funny as Michael Lehman’s scabrous Heathers, any movie made for just $10,000 that dares to be as brave and thought-provoking as The Dirties deserves to be seen.


VERDICT: [rating=3]


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