Staff Pick: “The Dirties” a unique take on school shooting

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From the October 10, 2013 edition

Nearly 15 years after Columbine, school shootings are still a touchy subject on film. Gus Van Sant’s 2003 “Elephant” and Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 “We Need to Talk About Kevin” both address the topic in gripping ways.

But “The Dirties” takes a different tact and may be all the more haunting for it.

Best friends Matt (Matthew Johnson, who also directs) and Owen (Owen Williams) are movie nerd high-school students who are making a comedic action film about getting revenge on bullies in the school. One of them takes this plan more seriously.

An opening title card lays “The Dirties” in the realm of recent “found footage” films, establishing that the footage was shot for Matt and Owen’s movie. (It’s best not to overthink this, lest you wonder about the silent cameramen.)

With the low-budget production, a lot was riding on the actors. Both deliver. What makes “The Dirties” so troubling to watch is just how likable these characters are. They’re affable, witty and sharp, which makes the slow turn all the more painful to watch.

The day-in-the-life narrative can be boring at times, and the film’s closing may not have enough resolution for some, but I can’t shake this film.