“… one of the most emotional films I have ever watched.”
A while ago a YouTube channel that I follow posted a review of Nirvana the Band the Show. Intrigued, I watched the video and what I found was very high praise for a show that, by all footage shown, looked absolutely brilliant. I immediately knew that I had to check it out, but what got my immediate attention was the information that the man behind Nirvana the Band the Show, Matt Johnson, had already made two movies that I hadn’t seen yet. I made it a priority to watch these movies, and a few weeks later I finally got the chance. This adventure started off with The Dirties. The Dirties is a movie about two high school friends who have to make a movie for their film class. The pair decide to make their film about killing bullies in their school, but things take a dark turn when the line between reality and fiction grows blurry.
When The Dirties started I was looking for a comedy; this is because of the clips I saw from Nirvana the Band the Show. Luckily a comedy is what I got. The beginning of The Dirties is absolutely hilarious, and it captures these really realistic characters that I can totally relate to. Walking down the halls of high school cracking jokes, talking about movies; I definitely saw myself in these characters. But then things take a pretty quick departure from comedy. I don’t think I was ever overtly bullied in school (at least not to the extent of these characters in the movie), but there were numerous times where I felt attacked. Be it friendly ribbing or something more sinister, there were a few times at school where I would call myself a victim. But much like every grown man these feelings had been repressed with years of pretending like nothing bothered me; but The Dirties brought all of those feelings back. I was watching these characters walk down the halls, shooting their movie and laughing at their lines, when all of a sudden the scene turned very dark. One of the characters, Matt, gets tripped. Now this isn’t an accident, and it wasn’t gentle either. What then transpires is the aggressor feigning regret, but then ultimately making a huge show out of Matt holding his hand to get up off of the ground. This instantly brought me back to all of those times that I had repressed. It was at this moment that I knew The Dirties was not a comedy. What follows is a series of scenes that just make me feel bad. Be it the entire class laughing at your project, getting stares in the hallway, the offhand comments that come from nowhere and everywhere at once; all of this filled me with dread. This feeling only got worse when I started to see what Matt was going to do about it. This feeling of dread continued to grow and grow until by the end of the movie, I was so overcome with it that I couldn’t react to anything else on screen. I was just sitting there, frozen. This feeling continued until the credits stopped rolling and I was forced to write down my thoughts on the film.
What makes The Dirties so amazing is just how real the film feels. I already discussed the feelings the film produced, but in this section I’m going to talk about less abstract ideas. The Dirties presents itself as a “found footage” or “mockumentary” style film. The entire movie is filmed by a third party who is never seen and barely mentioned, and that is okay. Honestly, you forget about the camera pretty quickly which is good because there are a couple of shots that don’t make sense. What you do get is this sense of reality. Often times you will forget that what you are seeing on-screen has been written down on a page beforehand; it all feels so natural. The biggest factor in this feeling is the performances in the movie. Now I’m not sure how much of this film is interaction with real people much like Borat (a lot of it feels like it is), but even the stuff that isn’t feels so fucking real. Let’s talk about the characters of Matt and Owen for a minute. Matt (played by Matt Johnson) is a character that I can relate to. He cracks jokes, he loves movies, and his only real outlet is talking to his friend Owen. The performance given as the character of Matt is so real it’s almost uncanny. I’m not sure how it was done, but seeing the slow downward spiral was both masterful and seamless. You never question why a character is doing anything because it just make sense. On the flip side you have Owen (played by Owen Williams) who is less outgoing than his friend Matt. He keeps to himself, and he is much more careful to make sure reality stays in check. These characters perfectly show the two different kinds of bullying victims. There is the kind that always keeps to himself, even when there is no danger (Owen), and there is the kind that has a big mouth all of the time, but then when danger rears its ugly face he is as timid as a mouse (Matt). These character traits as well as the performances attached to them are just so real that it is scary. I could go on and on about how every single person in every single scene in this movie is amazing, but frankly I don’t have the time and I’m sure you don’t have the patience.
It wasn’t just the performances that made The Dirties feel so real, but it was also the filming style. Now I already mentioned this above, but the way The Dirties was shot is so interesting to me. Usually when you think “found footage” the movies are intentionally bad. Bad lighting, bad sound, bad stability; all of this to increase your immersion. The Dirties didn’t do that, instead introducing that this was a found-footage movie and then allowing you to forget about the camera. This was amazing to see because it was very amateur, but at the same time very professional. We saw the characters brag about their wireless lav mics a few times, which explained away the good audio. We heard them mention a camera man a few times, which explained why both of them were on screen. We saw them sitting down to edit this movie as it was being made, which explains why there is so much care put into where each cut is. We saw them pick out the music for every scene which explains why it is so good, but also so fitting. For every question there is an answer, and that feeing of the film being amateur that I mentioned earlier only shows the brilliance of director Matt Johnson. You have to know the rules before you can break them; you have to know how to make a professional film before you can make one that emulates the feeling of being new to the field.
I could go on for days about why I loved every minute of this movie, but I know that after a certain point my rambling would become progressively incoherent and repetitive. I fucking loved this movie. Everything from the direction, to the score, to the performances, to the feeling that it gave me; everything just came together to create what I would call one of the most emotional films I have ever watched.
I give The Dirties an A