With wins at Slamdance in Park City and Austin's Fantastic Fest, Toronto filmmaker Matt Johnson's directorial debut "The Dirties" has started getting the attention of a whole lot of film fans -- including none other than Kevin Smith, who's helping bring the harrowing indie film to theatres and VOD this week as part of the newly-formed Kevin Smith Movie Club.
Told through found footage, "The Dirties" stars Johnson and Owen Williams as two teenage film buffs shooting a movie about getting revenge on the bullies who make high school hell. Only it turns out what they're actually documenting is the planning of a real-life school shooting, after what starts out as a twisted joke gets taken way too far.
That chilling subject matter is a tricky enough premise for veteran filmmakers to execute, let alone first-timers, which is exactly why "The Dirties" has been earning raves. Here are five more reasons why you should check out the ambitious indie film.
1. Kevin Smith Wants You To
The latest trailer for "The Dirties" boasts some pretty high praise from a guy who it's safe to say knows his movies, with Smith quoted as saying, "This is the most important film you will see all year." And when Silent Bob speaks, you should probably listen. Or at least that's the theory behind the Kevin Smith Movie Club, which aims to help get unique indie movies in front of a wider audience. "The Dirties" is the sixth title in the filmmaker's hand-picked collection, and you have to figure Smith sees something of himself in Johnson, who co-wrote, directed, edited and starred in his low-budget DIY feature debut.
2. It's Not Your Typical Found Footage Movie
Rather than catch ghosts or monsters in the act, "The Dirties" uses the "found footage" set-up to offer a disconcertingly realistic record of the lead-up to a school shooting, after starting off as a project Johnson and Williams are putting together for film class. The faux-documentary approach means we frequently see the pair editing or re-watching footage we've just seen and readjusting their mics, all to help build the illusion of reality. Some of the sub-genre's logical inconsistencies still pop up -- like the mute cameraman (and sometimes more than one) that's referred to only once or twice. Still, thanks to the topical subject matter and impressively natural performances, "The Dirties" ends up being a far more terrifying found footage film than most horror movies that attempt the technique these days.
3. It's Packed With Movie References
It's probably not much of a surprise that a movie about two friends making a movie wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve. And when your two characters are obsessive film fans like Johnson and Williams, the references, quotes and reenacted scenes rack up pretty quickly. Some are self-explanatory, others more obscure, but you'd probably have to watch "The Dirties" multiple times to catch them all. And be sure to stay for the end credits, which act as a rapid-fire homage to some of film's most memorable title designs. Of course, when Johnson ultimately decides to act out these influences for real, the meta moments quickly go from cute to horrifying.
4. Matt Johnson Is One To Watch
With all the film festival accolades and Kevin Smith in his corner, it might not be long before Johnson is the one getting referenced, because as the writer, director, editor and star of "The Dirties," the young filmmaker and one-man band shows a serious talent for each. So if and/or when Johnson follows Smith's career path and becomes an indie movie phenom, just think of the serious film nerd cred you'd earn by saying you've been a fan from his very first movie.
5. It's About Something
Granted, all movies technically fit that criteria. But in the case of "The Dirties," the film is about something: bullying. And while you might be tempted to think the ripped-from-the-headlines premise is actually a stronger reason to not watch "The Dirties," Johnson avoids the usual traps of being preachy or exploitative when it comes to the difficult yet timely subject matter. Instead, he delivers a much more compelling take by focusing on the buildup to the horrific event rather than the aftermath or glorifying it. And because the movie feels so real and takes such pains to put ourselves in Johnson's shoes, while not justifying the character's actions, "The Dirties" is all the more heartbreaking -- not to mention worth seeing -- for it.