Matt (Matt Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are high school friends who are shooting a film about the group that bully them at school, and generally make their lives difficult. While the film starts off as a comedy – hugely influenced by films that the two like – when a teacher pours cold water on the violent elements of the film and their reality, Matt decides that to make the film more realistic, they must seek revenge on The Dirties once and for all.
Championed by Kevin Smith, The Dirties is a look at the world of high school bullying, told through the eyes of the victims. Using the device that Matt and Owen are filming their own movie allows the audience to be drawn into their world and see the switch in ideas and attitudes that happens between two friends.
Matt Johnson plays Matt, the more gung ho of the two friends. Right from the off it is obvious that Matt is a character highly influenced by cult movies and the high school shootings that have gone before. As time goes on, and Matt wonders about his state of mind, it is clear that this is a young man who has never really had an opinion that was not informed by or designed to be part of a movie. Matt hides behind movie quotes, even among his friends, so as not to appear vulnerable.
Owen Williams, as Owen, is the more ‘reasonable’ of the pair; he is influenced by his more vociferous friend, but as soon as he realises that Matt’s ideas are not just fantasy, he backs away from the project, trying to be more like a ‘normal’ high school student and focusing on girls.
The Dirties is often remarkably funny as a film, but the vein of tragedy that runs through the film runs deep. It is obvious that these two characters can never see the pain and torment they are suffering coming to an end, and their idea for revenge – and to make their movie more ‘real’ – is one that is not only terrifying, but seemingly an easy next step for the pair. The film examines the nature of bullying, and the affect this has on the victims; in this case, turning the victims into more violent and dangerous bullies than those that picked on them in the first place.
The Dirties is a well crafted story about victimhood and revenge, and the final shot is not only disturbing, but darkly upsetting. Matt Johnson has made an acutely observed film about the nature of adolescence and the importance of finding your own identity, as well as bullying and victimhood. While it is a strong piece of work, The Dirties is also often uncomfortable and unsettling.