What would an image-obsessed film geek wear to a school shooting — the one that he'll commit? In the funny-creepiest moment of "The Dirties," a masterful blend of black humor and queasy dread, high school student Matt (Matt Johnson, who also directed and co-wrote) runs through a montage of possibilities.
Adidas tear-away pants for a facade of innocent normalcy? A T-shirt with the cover of "The Catcher in the Rye" ("Crazy killers are always obsessed with 'The Catcher in the Rye,'" Matt notes) — and Holden Caulfield's red hunting cap? Certainly not a plastic shopping bag over his head. ("It's not safe because we're promoting a choking hazard.")
What Matt is "promoting" matters because he plans to use footage of the shooting in his next film project. He's done it before: After secretly recording himself being bullied, he incorporated that video into a school project, a Tarantino-esque revenge fantasy against his tormentors. He's already suffered for his art; now it's their turn.
At the heart of Matt's descent into sociopathy is a compelling portrait of teenage alienation and self-delusion. Already estranged from his peers by his cinephilia — Matt's the kind of film nerd whose first language is movie quotes — his increasingly antisocial tendencies drive away his best friend, Owen (Owen Williams). The rich character development, naturalistic performances, well-paced plotting and shaky-cam look all make the final shoot inevitable — and tragically ordinary.
"The Dirties." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. At Arena Cinema Hollywood. Also available on VOD.
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