An Uncomfortably Dark Comedy About High School Bullying
Why did Kevin Smith decide to sponsor this little indie-Canadian film, a debut for director Matt Johnson? Apart from his open-relationship with the Canadian Film Industry (and Degrassi), he genuinely believes that it is "the most important movie you will see all year". And many agree.
The film was first released at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2013 where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative, among numerous others. It has also screened at San-Diego Comic-Con, and the TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre.
So what makes this ridiculously low-budget film so special? The topic of bullying is always rampant, especially in the last few years with the recognition of cyber-bullying and its connection to teen-suicide/homicide, but part of what makes this film so fresh is its back to basics approach. The bullying is shown to be all in-school, perpetrated by one group (nicknamed The Dirties), in an 80s movies fashion. So despite the constant publicizing of cyber-bullying, this film reminds us of the harsh reality of the HS hallways, when you don't fit in.
The plot follows two best friends, Matt and Owen, who start off by trying to raise awareness about The Dirties by making an action-packed revenge film which they plan to screen for class (it may be a project assignment, but its conception is a little vague). Matt is shown to be the main figure in the filmmaking process, and his enthusiasm just makes you smile. But more importantly, his desire to create positive change from his work is very compelling. But unfortunately, the film doesn't go over the way he had planned - the blow is unbearable. As he becomes more and more frustrated with his film having no impact on his fellow classmates, Matt suggests the problem is that they did not actually kill The Dirties... like, for real. What starts as a joke quickly becomes a reality as Matt becomes more and more set on exacting a revenge that will be more meaningful, he also begins to lose his connection with Owen who finds the entire plan a little too real.
In a Revenge of the Nerds meets Elephant approach, the film uses a mock-umentary style to ground itself in the real issue. The film is properly contextualized, with references such as Columbine and The Catcher in the Rye, but these are used passingly which somehow gives them more depth. In this way, the film comments on how eerily normal such violences are in our everyday lives. The film's charm comes form earnest moments like these, oh, and the meta-film approach as the two main characters are portrayed as having quite the movie obsession.
After seeing the film at Slamdance, Kevin Smith offered to promote the film on his podcast, but his support did not end there. Eventually Smith told the young director that he would like to release the film through his company. When Johnson was asked why he believes his film is generating a wider release in the U.S. than in its domestic market, he said:
"People are more interested in the perspective of it there than they are in Canada because it’s so in the consciousness of the public...The reception to the film -- in terms of the positivity -- has been equal with Canadian and American audiences, but certainly there seems to be a much deeper fascination with it stateside." (Wide Screen)