October 4, 2013

The Dirties (2013)

"Two best friends are filming a comedy about getting revenge on the bullies at their high school. One of them isn't joking."

If you're expecting "The Dirties" to be another "Rampage" (2009), think again. "The Dirties" is amateur handycam crap of the highest order with semi-decent acting wasted on an unoriginal plot which ultimately peters out and stops dead just as the excitement begins. It's all talk, very little action, and mostly unconvincing characters.

Apart from the location, "The Dirties" is far too similar to Samuel N. Benavides's "None Left Standing" (2005) for those of us who know our low-budget movies. Although "The Dirties" isn't a blatant rip-off and doesn't focus on a descent into madness as well, it's certainly in the same vein. Both are about a trio of students making a film with one of them being dangerously obsessive.

The difference, of course, is that "The Dirties" uses a no-budget student film within another no-budget student film as its novelty "meta" contrivance. The levels of metafiction reach their peak with Matthew Johnson not only acting as himself but also being the director and writer of this disappointing drivel. He doesn't do a bad job for a jack-of-all-trades (and master of none), but I would love to see Canadian filmmakers come up with something more original rather than lazily reworking American movie tropes to death.

Because of its borrowings, I'm not sure if "The Dirties" is supposed to be "found footage" of some kind or if it's meant to be a bizarrely filmed "fly on the wall" drama. Either way, it failed for me aesthetically and stylistically. The unseen cameraman (who I think is called "Ed" at one point) brings up too many questions about who is filming what and why, and it threw me out of the movie several times.

As far as stories about high schools and bullies go, "The Dirties" is full of the usual clich├ęs; jocks versus nerds and all that bullshit which, as a Brit, I never encountered and can't identify with no matter how many times the same stereotypes are forced on me. There's nothing that any of the kids do in this movie that a good old-fashioned punch in the mouth wouldn't have solved if only the emasculated characters stood up for themselves. I know this is Canadian, but Americans and Brits are usually so mouthy about expressing everything that I can't even get my head around the internalisation which leads to isolation, self-destruction, or murder. In Canada, where the myth is that everybody is nicer and less selfish, the frustration caused by repression is maybe less puzzling.

Prior to watching "The Dirties", I came across an interesting documentary called "Bullied to Death: The Tragedy of Phoebe Prince" (2010) which covers the subject of American high school bullying and its psychological effects a lot better. But, as someone whose only experience of attempted bullying has been as a "victim" of the online geek-cliques of hypocrital prudes, their whiteknights, and "flaggots" who I laugh at for being so childish, I still don't quite understand how such things are allowed to escalate. Maybe kids need to find better ways to deal with their frustrations like going outside once in a while, helping someone less fortunate, or stroking a cat.

Teenagers are nasty buggers anyway, and every modern movie and documentary which shows the younger generation and their infantilised parents is an argument to bring back corporal (and capital) punishment. In my day, a few hard whacks with a cane would've sorted everything out. But enough of me on my soapbox. Suffice it to say that the predictably violent but very brief (and punch-pulling) ending of "The Dirties" is the culmination of what happens when you spare the rod and spoil the child.

"The Dirties" isn't a movie recreating Columbine or any of the other famous school shootings, nor is it meant to be, but what it's trying to say as a drama about teenage relationships, loneliness, and a kid who can't tell fiction from reality anymore doesn't work either. It's all too tame, and even an old British kids' TV show like "Grange Hill" dealt with the topics in a more controversial and satisfying way over 30 years ago.

If you're looking for something gritty, I recommend skipping this one.

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