Toronto After Dark Spotlight – The Dirties (2013) – Matthew Johnson

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The Toronto After Dark Film Festival has been known for showing edgy, darker films, controversial films…

None could possibly be more so than this film from Director Matthew Johnson, as it takes on the subject of bullying culminating in a school shooting.

That right there tells you it’s not going to be an easy watch, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it, as it is undeniably an important film, dealing with topics that seem to be increasing on a daily basis. And despite the subject matter, there is humour, there is pathos, there’s life, as these incidents, like everything else in life, do not occur in a vacuum, they are a culmination of events, and that is what we see in this film.

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A pair of lonely outsiders, both of whom are bright and funny in their own way, living on the cusp of the jungle that is high school life, Matt (Matthew Johnson) and Owen (Owen Williams)find solace in watching and making movies. Their new project for their film class features the pair of them rising up against their bullies, and cleaning the school out, making it a safe place again, though most of that tends to get lost in the language, dialogue rip-offs and homages to other films.

As the pair continue to get mocked, Matt continues to see the world through his movie, and Owen slowly begins to engage the world itself, through a developing relationship with the pretty girl in school Chrissy H. (Krista Madison).

Matt begins to toy with the idea of ‘what if they didn’t just go into the school and ‘kill’ the Dirties (the bullies), what if they went into the school and KILLED the Dirties?” While Owen is starting to see life outside of Matt’s basement, Matt begins making lists, getting school blueprints (surprisingly easy), and planning, planning, planning.

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As things develop, Owen and Matt have a break, when Owen points out that Matt encourages his own behavior, keeping the world at a distance, always acting, pretending, and imagining what this scene would look like in a movie, he has dis-associated himself from reality, and sees not only his life, but the entire world as a movie.

His blow-out with Owen, where he tries to convince Owen that he, Matt, may be pathological (and he’s not wrong), spurred on by his jealousy of the developing friendship between Owen and Chrissy, is a cry for help in his own way, but he has no real social skills to express it in his own way.

He also finally ventures out of his basement hideaway. He goes to the kitchen to see his mother,again trying to ask for help in his own way. I found It interesting that we don’t see Matt’s mother until almost the end of the film, it’s as if the only room that exists for Matt is his bedroom/basement area, there’s nothing else in his world but for his room and school.

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He has no support system, no outlet except his own creativity, which has become so inundated with violent imagery (not just from the movies he watches, so this is not an indictment of the film industry, let’s be clear), that it makes sense to him to respond violently to those who bully him.

The last few minutes of the film are chilling as we watch Matt coldly preparing for what he’s set on doing, and then setting out on his course of action.

As I said, it’s a tough watch, but an important one. As an additional warning, the film is all shot hand-held, so the image moves around a lot, and as I mentioned before, I don’t deal well with that on the big screen, so if you’re the same, you may want to seek this one out on Video On Demand or iTunes, but it’s definitely a film worth seeing, and I applaud those folks over at Toronto After Dark for shining their Spotlight on it!

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