Friday, 4 October 2013

THE DIRTIES - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Chilling, Darkly Funny No-Budget Bullying Picture Just Misses Mark

Note to Burgeoning Filmmakers:
If you make a movie about Geeks,
you must always populate the movie with babes -
as THE DIRTIES has clearly achieved in spades.
The Dirties (2013) ***
Dir. Matthew Johnson
Starring: Matthew Johnson, Owen Williams, Krista Madison

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Two high school movie-crazy-mega-geeks (Matthew Johnson, Owen Williams) are savagely and repeatedly picked on by bullies and ostracized by the larger school population. They have each other, though, and their bonds of friendship run deep. They bolster their own self-esteem by making some very mordantly funny homemade movies wherein they pretend to extract considerable revenge upon their tormenters. One of the geeks starts to gain some acceptance by other kids in the school (he even catches the fancy of a mega-babe he's long been smitten over), the other is driven deeper into revenge fantasies. Hell will inevitably spew forth from the bowels of roiling hatred, frustration and anger. Like rivers of deadly lava, it's only a matter of time before they're dappled with streams of blood as they wend their way through the hallways of the school.

The Dirties is a worthy subject for a film and as a film, it's equally worthy. Worthiness, however, does not necessarily signify that the film succeeds beyond its ambition. Much of the movie feels improvised (some effective, much not) and occasionally veers into the woeful territory of the slapdash. It's the seeming natural immediacy of the mise-en-scene that giveth and taketh in equal measure - leaving an experience that feels like it could have achieved some measure of mad genius, but falls to reach that mark.

It does score points, however, for giving it the old college try.

There are two major problems that frankly, could have been addressed with a bit more thought and some extra elbow grease. The first is that the movie appears to be a mock straight-up documentary about these two beleaguered teens, but there's no real context with which to place this in. Unfortunately, we never know if this is the genuine intent and if so, who is shooting it and why? It feels like other students are shooting it, but given the pariah-like status of the pair, we wonder how and why this would be occurring and why, as burgeoning filmmakers themselves, would they entrust the shooting of this to someone who is not their friend.

This, for me, is problematic because we're plagued with far too many nagging questions that hit us repeatedly while we watch the movie - it takes us out of the action and as such, does not allow for a greater emotional connection to the characters and their respective journeys. I'd bet this approach was intentional because there is an innate intelligence below the film's surface which suggests it's just bad filmmaking. It's not "bad" per se. What it suggests is both inexperience and a bit of laziness in not addressing what is either (a.) a clear problem or (b.) finding a more cohesive way to allow audiences to ask questions so that it's integral to the pictures's mise-en-scene.

This is what ties directly to the second major problem with the film - it does feel slapdash - and whether this is intentional or not, it's yet another element to rip away our ability to be completely immersed. When "slapdash" is intentional, it helps when other integral dramatic elements are addressed - which, they are not.

Immersion is obviously an important goal of the filmmaker, but he and his collaborators needed to put far more thought into the stylistic and structural implications of their decisions upon the film as a whole. So much of the movie is both chilling and funny - a very nice departure from traditional approaches to the subject matter - and is ultimately the reason to see the film, but equally, is the reason for feeling that it could have been so much better.

Oh, and before you whine at me with, "But Greg, it's such a low budget movie and the kids did a really good job and Kevin Smith loves it. Why are you being so picky?" - think on this: The filmmakers clearly have talent. If I, or someone else needs to foist seemingly curmudgeon-like, but practical heart-felt criticism upon their film, it's because one hopes they'll keep making films and striving to always make them better. It's a worthy goal for any filmmaker.

"The Dirties" won a Grand Prize at the Slamdance Film Festival, premiered at the Toronto After Dark Spotlight series and is currently in limited theatrical release. In Canada, it's playing at the Toronto International Film Festival's TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinemas. For further information, visit the TIFF website HERE.