In one of the highest rated films of both the Sundance Film Festival as well as the Toronto Film Festival, the Canadian documentary-drama, The Dirties portrays the horrifying epidemic of bullying in schools. The defining hook of the film is that it is entirely real; even the dramatic scenes of bullying are unscripted.
There are few things as universally agreed upon as the fact that bullying among youth must end. In recent years we have seen many initiatives and policy changes in order to prevent the onset of bullying in school environments. As much as these social programs work, physical and mental aggression is still rampant within all forms of institutions from elementary school all the way to university and higher-level facilities.
The film follows two high-school students, Matthew Johnson and Owen Williams and their actual experiences with bullies. The captured videos of their struggles and conflicts with school bullies are tied together with the plot of creating the film itself. As a result of this, the film carries a meta-narrative and continuously escalates in its self-reflection.
Johnson, the lead actor, is also the film’s director – his personal insights on bullying give him the knowledge and wisdom that create such a compelling and poignant film. Always remembering that the film is essentially an amalgamation of his own life, gives it an ominously relatable tone.
After years of relentless bullying and little aid from either teachers, parents or peers, the pair essentially had enough. As such, the two create a hypothetical plan to deal with the school’s gang of bullies, which they deem, “The Dirties”. Fears quickly escalate however when it seems that one of the two are taking this idea of taking vengeance on the bullies too far.
The film is so grounded that it is incredibly difficult to watch. It is uncomfortable, awkward and at times almost insultingly blunt. While this may make the film too unconventional for some viewers, this is also where the genius lies.
Beyond bullying itself, the film delves into some truly upsetting and controversial subject matter, as any indie film should. Despite the dark tones of self-loathing, pain and mental destitution, the film still manages to make you laugh. Throughout the film you begin to truly see the chemistry that Johnson and Williams have; not only are they close friends but they are definitely having fun in shooting the film. There is no structured plot, because it is a documentary, anything they did was spur of the moment and therefore very entertaining.
After a long period of private showings at film festivals and keynotes, the film is finally making its Canadian theatrical debut. The film was released on Friday, October 4th across Canada. Although the film is critically acclaimed, there is not a huge expectation that the film will top The Smurfs 2 or the One Direction documentary currently in theaters, but hopefully its thoughtful message will inspire the issue of bullying to be reexamined. Bullying should not exist in a society of education and acceptance and surely anyone who sees bullying through the eyes of these victims will certainly agree.