The Dirties starts out with two best friends (played by Matt Johnson and Owen Williams) filming a comedy about getting revenge on the bullies at their high school. But as production continues with their film project and things are going exactly as they had initially hoped, it becomes clear that one of them isn’t joking and isn’t only talking about the film any more.
This debut feature from Toronto’s own Matt Johnson certainly comes into town with a fair bit of fanfare as a ringing endorsement from Kevin Smith and awards at festivals all across North America. Johnson crafts an effective tale of high school woe as our two heroes set off on their task, only to be thwarted by bullies (aka The Dirties), school staff who are impeding upon their artistic vision for the film and even their classmates and themselves. The real master stroke of this film is how it so subtly turns what is just two high school kids venting their frustrations into some genuine tension as the line between sympathy and outright fear gets very blurry.
Writer/director and star Matt Johnson slides into the role of Matt very well as the over eager, but consistently tortured young man. At first we sympathize with him but then as the narrative unfolds we see a young man truly on the brink of doing something that he can never come back from. Owen Williams as Owen was just fine as his artistic buddy and wing man, who at first feels out of place when Matt’s aggression level starts to rise but when he realizes that his best friend may not actually be joking, that discomfort turns in to out and out terror, as he simply doesn’t know if he will or if he won’t go through with his plans. Both actors work well together and their relationship is the literal lynch-pin of the entire film.
Plain and simple, The Dirties works because it feels less like a movie and more like a moment of teenage angst that many of us can relate to. And it’s such a damn good film because of it.
The Dirties is playing exclusively at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.
Rating: ***½ (out of 5 stars)