Jay Frasco's feature film debut, Dirt Boy, balances contrasting tones in a manner that should lead to a bout of head scratching for most viewers. Shot on digital video, the movie's deliberate pacing and ominous mood suggest a subtle, low-budget thriller that is calculatingly setting its audience up before potently striking. But as much as Frasco wants to deliver twists and chills, the director is just as intent on tossing in copious amounts of unexpected offbeat humor. The result is predictably uneven, but the effort is commendable.
Twentysomething Matty Matthews (Jacob Lee Hedman) is a recovering New York City junkie trying to overcome the recent death of his mother. He decides to leave the Big Apple behind for the far more peaceful environs of a small Cape Cod town, Atwater Commons, to attend a six-week seminar being given by noted criminologist Dr. Ronald Klugard (Luca Bercovici). Matty takes to the road with only a handful of possessions, including a book-on-tape called Dirt Boy, which was written by Atwater Commons' own master of mystery Atwater Bridges (Arthur J. Walsh). The book details the crimes of a serial killer known as Dirt Boy, and the author's powerful prose leads Matty to do some investigation, where he soon discovers that the supposed fiction resembles reality just a bit too closely.
As his search for the real Dirt Boy grows more intense, Matty is confronted with an increasing number of obstacles. The proverbial fish-out-of-water, Matty is viewed skeptically by the locals, but is fortunately able to track down a living near-victim of Dirt Boy's; a young woman named Brook (Michelle Guthrie). Her help leads Matty ever closer to the truth, but ultimately subjects the two to enormous peril.
Dirt Boy ambitiously jars expectations and willingly laughs at its contrived plot. As the good guy who can't get a break, Matty's interaction with the almost otherworldly inhabitants of Atwater Commons has an absurdly comic sucker-punch effect. The film can take you from the grisly discovery of a corpse in a shallow grave to the authorities' bumbling, inept attempts to secure the crime scene without batting an eye.
While the laughs continue to pop up in unexpected places, the director growingly loses control of his story. The suspense never builds to a suitable climax, and the focus becomes blurred in the film's final act. Frasco obviously took delight in creating a group of eccentric characters, but they too often tend to overshadow the proceedings. The no-name cast is adequate though none of the performances are especially memorable.
Dirt Boy was clearly made on a shoestring budget, as its production values and visual style are strictly of the no-frills variety. It is nice to see a digital video movie that is constructed and composed as if it were shot on film, but the camerawork could have benefited from a bit more imagination. However, Frasco is able to make quite a bit from limited resources, and his whimsical, original voice is surely a sign of interesting things to come.