The first word that comes to mind when I think of The Dirties is “controversial”. Although, not the Miley Cyrus wearing a latex suit and twerking at the VMA Awards kind of controversy. More like the kind of controversy that can be a force of change. Like the one sparked by 30 Seconds To Mars’ lawsuit with EMI and the subsequent film Artifact that came out regarding those events. The controversy sparked by Zero Dark Thirty is also a good example. Both of these films got people speaking about various issues. One caused people to talk about the flaws within the record business and the other caused people to question the CIA’s use of torture when interrogating terrorists. The Dirties aims at getting people to talk about school shootings and how these shootings can be prevented. The film is controversial as it cuts straight to the root of school shootings: bullying. Nobody seems to want to talk about the perpetrators of school shootings so The Dirties does that for you.
The film starts off as being a school project of Matt Johnson and Owen Williams (actors of the same name). It originally starts off as being a very innocent project where their desire is to vent the pain they have as a result of being bullied intensely. They shoot this film where they go and “kill” the bullies in their school who they have named The Dirties. Obviously, nobody actually gets shot and it is done in the typical amateur school project style of them playing numerous characters. Their teacher then tells them they can’t make the film and they have to edit it. Their edited version is mocked in class and it is at this point where everything takes a turn for the twisted. Matt comes up with this idea that they make a film where they actually kill all the bullies. It is around this that the rest of the film will revolve. Now, I hate spoilers so I shall try to keep them to the minimum, but there are various moments within in the film that I consider to be so intriguing that I have to mention them.
Firstly, let me divert your attention to the way the film was shot. As mentioned before, it goes in that typical kind of low-budget film project style. You can see Matt and Owen editing footage that would actually comprise the actual movie The Dirties. The camerawork is done in a similar style to The Blair Witch Project where there is a cameraman following Matt and Owen around. Although it doesn’t have the same POV-style as The Blair Witch Project does, it maintains that raw, documentary style shot where often the cameraman can’t be up close to them and has to shoot secretly. What I really like is how they filmed it in an actual high school and a lot of the students caught on camera were just random people who happened to be walking in the hall. If you watch carefully you can almost see students trying to get themselves into the camera shot. This just adds to the realness of the film. It really feels like this actually occurred and somebody just happened to put together all the footage that was left over. Especially in the final scenes where Matt actually executes the school shooting plan and the picture alternates between footage from wall-mounted cameras and the cameraman chasing after Matt as he dashes through the halls. It’s none of these layered and well-executed Hollywood cinematic styles. It is raw and heart-wrenching shooting that truly captures the emotion of the film.
In a Ridley Scott film, the acting in The Dirties would be considered to be below standard. Actually, I retract that statement. Did you even watch Blade Runner? The acting was terrible. Sorry, Harrison Ford. The acting is actually quite spectacular within The Dirties because it is not this extravagant overacting, which you can tell simply by the way Matt and Owen react to the bullying. You can sort of tell that they have been bullied before and know how to react. If this was some Oscar-winning actor, they’d probably be walking off bawling their eyes out because that is how they think they should act. Owen gets hit on the head with a rock and his reaction is pain mixed with a defensive reaction. That is how most victims of bullying react. The acting showcases real reactions to bullying and also how each character deals with the severity of this plan they have.
Now we get to my favourite part of the film, the degradation in the relationship between Matt and Owen. This is one of my favourite bits as it demonstrates the seriousness of the entire business. Owen realises that Matt has gotten far too lost in this whole “film” idea and starts to withdraw from the entire project. This is coupled with the girl he has a crush on actually starting to speak to him, which makes him realise that he doesn’t always have to talk to Matt and he starts to make other friends. Matt, on the other hand, has one friend – Owen. Matt becomes dead-set on actually shooting all the bullies and doesn’t seem one bit affected by the fact that he is going to kill people. He is quite excited by the whole deal. It is Matt’s constant belief that everything is a film that makes Owen start to draw away from him. There are numerous occasions where Owen confronts Matt on these things and it results in a spectacular argument that results in the ending of their friendship. Owen manages to retain some sense of humanity and reality whereas Matt completely loses it. He is too lost in being bullied and creating this perfect film that he loses touch with reality. An interesting moment is when Matt asks his mother if he is crazy. She aptly responds with the statement: “Crazy means you’re unable to distinguish between your dreams and your reality.” Which is the very thing that Matt does. Up until the very last minute, Matt believes this is all for some spectacular film. He does not stop to consider the reality of the situation. For all intents and purposes, he is a psychopath. It is for these reasons that Matt and Owen have a falling out. This culminates in a climatic closing scene… which I shall not spoil.
Another brilliant nuance is the progression within the film. You can see it progressing from being this silly thing to being incredibly serious. It starts as being an innocent high school film project that takes a turn for the twisted, yet even then it is still a bit of a joke. It is only after they have messed about with the guns that the film takes a turn for the darker as the audience realises that Matt isn’t joking about this. It goes from being silly to this full-on slap in the face that wakes you up and opens your eyes.
Being a music lover, I have to mention the soundtrack. It is a very indie-styled soundtrack with songs from Best Coast, Tig and Lissie’s cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness”. It is an obscure soundtrack that matches the strangeness of the film’s characters. It also adds a dark atmosphere with these happy yet at the same time dark indie tracks playing in the background.
In summation, The Dirties is a film that deserves an Oscar, an Oscar for being one of the rawest films of 2014. This isn’t a film that you watch to feel happy. It is a film you watch to feel something. It tugs on your heartstrings as you get to see the hell that some kids are put through and how that can result in the tragedy of a school shooting. You actually feel pity for these kids as you realise how hurt they are. It makes you want to reach out and help them. It also makes you want to bring in heavier gun laws to prevent such easy access to weapons. It is a film that moves you to activism or should move you to activism. I recommend The Dirties to anybody with a shred of humanity.