dirties1I was lucky enough to watch The Dirties at this year’s Fantasia Festival in Montreal.  As is the case with seemingly more and more films these days, its future was in jeopardy. It’s not hard to explain why: The Dirties is about a two kids planning a school shooting. It’s understandable (though is also a shitty reflection on how “safe” even the more offbeat distributors have to be) that a movie that is mostly a comedy about two kids planning a horrific act would have a hard time finding a home in theaters or even on video on demand. The creator and star of the film Matt Johnson said as much at the screening. Prior to a certain director taking an interest in distributing the film, The Dirties would have been shown for the last time at Fantasia.

The Dirties must have been strong enough on its own merits (and resulting recognition at Slamdance) that the film popped up on Kevin Smith’s radar. He screened it at San Diego ComicCon, slapped his name on it as part of Kevin Smith’s Film Club and helped the independent Canadian filmmakers get a distribution deal. I am huge Kevin Smith fan, but I honestly feel that getting this film into the homes and minds of a larger audience is probably the biggest contribution to cinema of his life.  The Dirties is that good. (WARNING: Mild spoilers after the jump, not much more than is spoiled in the trailer though).

If you played Magic: The Gathering, read comic books, played tabletop RPGs, loved sci-fi and fantasy or enjoyed any number of things in school that was deemed “uncool” there is a nearly 100% chance that you were bullied at some time in your life because of it. It was probably at its worst in high school. The protagonists of The Dirties are those kids:  they play Magic, the read comics, they love cult movies. They are relentlessly picked on and tortured on a daily basis.

Everything about the protagonists of the film seemed familiar to me: the quoting pop-culture films to make each other laugh, the trying desperately to ignore the japes of the cool kids who just don’t “get” them, the comic books. Even up to the point where they make a student film where the premise is to kill off “The Dirties” (the nickname they give to the bullies in their school).

My friends and I used to fantasize about almost the same thing. We used to imagine having magical cards that would allow us to get rid of whoever was tormenting us that day, maybe with a limit of five kids. The discussion could go for hours, carefully planning and plotting which five kids disappearing out of our school would make it a better place. We might not have been fantasizing about directly killing these kids; we wanted to get rid of them.  Maybe we were just lying to ourselves and our fantasies were much darker?

Who could blame us for these fantasies?  5 days a week (and maybe even weekends if you bumped into them, I grew up in a small town) for 8 hours a day there were people who would actively pick on us, tease us, bully us, push us and so on. Who wouldn’t start thinking about a world where those people just weren’t there?

This is exactly why The Dirties succeeds so much as movie. If you grew up a geek (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this on this website, you probably did) you have something in common with Matt and Owen. You probably have a lot in common. You empathize so much with the characters that even though you know what they’re planning, they are still completely relatable. Throughout the entire film my gut was completely wrenched, as they fantasize about getting rid of The Dirties I found myself willing these kids not to go through with it. Just leave it in the fantasy, just graduate from high school and live the rest of your lives.  More than once in while watching it I had to force back tears, not because what was happening on screen was sad but because what was happening so closely reflected my own experiences.

The Dirties fucked me up for a few days, and it might do the same to you. You’ll be wondering how close you and your friends may have gotten to making a terrible mistake. What if you were picked on a little more? What if you didn’t have those two or three friends who made your day-to-day high school existence bearable? The harsh reality is that the kids that resort to these horrific actions are always outsiders, bullied and without many (or any) friends. All these kids were just kids before something broke inside of them. The Dirties main characters are relatable, likeable and real. They seem like the kind of kids I would’ve been friends with in school. Then, something breaks.

I think I should point out: The Dirties is funny, more or less from start to finish. The characters try to make each other laugh in a completely believable way and the audience is right there laughing along with them (this is even heightened by the “found footage” shooting style of the film). The comedy works even further wonders on making you like these guys. Don’t get me wrong, this film is dark, incredibly dark. There are just a good number of laughs along the way.

I am not even sure how to wrap this up. If you ever even been in doubt for a second about the harsh realities of growing up on the outside of what is “cool,” you should see this movie.  If you were an outsider growing up, you should see this movie. If you were one of the cool kids who picked on outsiders, you should see this movie. Fuck it; I really think everyone should see this movie.

The Dirties is getting some sort of theatrical (no doubt “limited”) on October 4th, so check it out if you can in theaters. A VOD release should probably come shortly after that.

Visit The Dirties official page and like the film on Facebook.dirties2