Above: Movie poster for The Dirties (2013)

This one had come across my desk a number of times, on lists of “movies you must see” and so on and so forth, but something about a movie depicting a school shooting just didn’t strike me as something I was terribly keen to see, especially given the frequency in which we see the tragic event unfold on almost a daily basis in real life. Admittedly, we are stepping back a few years to talk about this movie, but it feels like one that might not have gotten the attention that it deserves. It’s a small, indie film, but one that deserves so much more support.

As more time went by, and more recommendations for the film came through, I finally broke down and checked it out. I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. The Dirties is gripping, frightening, and devastating, and I would say that if you’ve been avoiding it like me, it’s time to check it out.

One of the things that really makes this movie work is the performances. Director and lead actor Matt Johnson and Owen Williams are both dynamite in their roles as Matt and Owen. Their chemistry is solid, the depictions of high school students feel very genuine, and there seems to be a real element of writing from experience. Their time in high school is complicated, and feels a lot like my own experiences with bullying, friends, and just trying to get through.

The mockumentary format is very effective, though there are sections that don’t make much sense in terms of where or why a camera man is present. Matt addresses the camera man from time to time, but even still there are times when it’s not really established why it’s there, such as during a heated argument where the cameraman appears to be hiding in a closet rather than actually hanging out with friends.

The final scene in the movie is one of the most gripping and intense scenes I’ve had the pleasure of sitting through in a very long time. You know exactly where the scene is going, and somehow that only increases the tension. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I had a visceral reaction to what I was seeing.

That said, the movie is definitely disturbing, particularly given the current trend of mass shootings in the US, and found it as upsetting as it was entertaining. I do recommend the movie, but as one for adults who have gone through high school and realized (as we all do) that those years ultimately don’t matter, rather than teens stuck in a shitty situation.

There are great performances, a fabulous soundtrack, and a lot of talent on display in The Dirties, and while it’s not without its faults, I really look forward to seeing what these filmmakers come out with next. If you haven’t seen it, you should.