The Dirties: Film Review

Would-be school shooters are influenced by violence in the media -- who knew?

A pair of bullied teens plan a school shooting in this darkly comic mockumentary.

The tale of two friends planning a student movie project about taking revenge on bullying tormentors, Matt Johnson's The Dirties is as provocative as it is sloppy in its themes. Using a mockumentary format, the film treads on overly familiar territory -- yes, it culminates in a Columbine/Newtown-style school shooting, but it also contains enough examples of anarchically dark humor to make it memorable.

Best friends Matt (director Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams) are routinely brutally harassed by the school jocks, so it's not surprising that they would take out their frustrations by conceiving a film informed by violent, Tarantino-like fantasies of revenge. As the project takes shape, Matt becomes increasingly enthusiastic about its real-life possibilities while Owen, who's beginning a relationship with a nice girl, starts to become uneasy about his friend's emotional downward spiral.

Not that Matt seems morose. Indeed, wearing a Catcher in the Rye T-shirt, he seems downright ebullient as he realizes the ease with which he may be able to carry out his plan. Marveling at being able to procure school blueprints with a mere polite request, he isn't exactly secretive about his intentions.

"We're planning a school shooting," he announces to one of his classmates, before asking solicitously, "Do you want us to kill anyone for you?"

Drenched in pop culture references -- the two would-be killers are constantly reciting dialogue from Pulp Fiction, among other films -- the film lurches toward its violent conclusion, in which a gun-brandishing Matt stalks the school hallways while reassuring would-be victims that "It's OK … I'm only here for the bad guys."

But for all the smartness of its conceit and the realism of its execution, the film becomes overly bogged down in familiar tropes, failing to offer any new insights into its all too timely subject matter. It's by now no surprise that budding sociopaths are overly influenced by violence in the media. The horrifying realities of real-life school shootings should inspire gun control legislation or some other practical solutions. Instead, sadly, they mainly seem to be serving as cinematic inspiration.

Production: XYZ Films
Cast: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Krista Madison, Josh Boles, Brandon Wickens, Alen Delain, Paul Daniel Ayotte, Shailene Garnett, David Matheson, Jay McCarrol
Director: Matt Johnson
Screenwriters: Matt Johnson, Evan Morgan
Producers: Matthew Miller, Matt Johnson, Jared Raab, Evan Morgan
Director of photography: Jared Raab
Costume designers: Paul Tiepkema, Derrick Gueren
Editor: Evan Morgan
Composer: Jay McCarrol

No rating, 84 minutes

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