Matt Johnson’s feature debut is an electric account of intimidation, abuse and vengeance in the hallways of a Toronto high school. Johnson plays Matt, a shunned and manic creative filmmaker who, with best friend Owen, uses his extensive knowledge of cult cinema to shoot a low budget revenge film entitled The Dirties. With his real life humiliation bleeding into the film, Matt’s intentions become increasingly sinister, repelling his best friend and ending in horror.
Already gleefully received at festivals and backed by super fan Kevin Smith, Johnson has made noticeable waves already, and with good reason. The Dirties is gloriously funny at times, powered by Matt’s socially stunted mannerisms and awareness of his mentality. Shooting the film amongst clueless non-acting students forms a tentative edge to events as they nervously observe Matt and Owen taking systematic abuse or acting out parts of their film.
In a Q&A following the film Johnson talks about the importance of celebrity to young people and the patterns that high school killers such as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold follow in hope of fame. It’s a brutally disturbing trait of a digitally savvy generation and is captured effectively in The Dirties by a handheld camera, the holder of which, though never named, is as involved in its events as Matt himself.
Watching him carefully set up the cameras for his big finale, then execute it with a Hollywood flare to the horror of unaware students eradicates any remaining comedy, which had lessened as the film began to sour and Matt and Owen’s friendship faded away.
Matt is a fascinating character to behold, not just because of his need for an entertaining retribution, but because he is so aware of his mentality. He relates to the Columbine killers and in spite of knowing the reception of their atrocities he copies them anyway. Through limited camera movements we follow the person that we have laughed and sympathised with for the most part end lives, and this makes for a thoughtful, gripping debut from Johnson.