Directed by Joseph Kahn
I didn’t want to like Detention. The trailer smacks of teen hipster cool, that particular teeny-bopper brand in which 17-year-olds listen to post-Police Sting and Kris Kross for maximum irony, wear ridiculous wraparound sunglasses like little 90’s era Miles Davises, and say things like “Don’t have a cow man” (Did anyone else miss the memo that Bart Simpson is now retro?). I want to run those kids over in real life so why would I want to sit through 88 minutes of them on screen? Ultimately, though, Joseph Kahn’s riotously zany film won me over with its infectious mash-up of horror, science fiction and teen comedy.
Detention‘s plot is filled with impossibly wacky details, plot, characters and scenarios, but it superficially tells the story of a group of friends who set out to stop a serial killer stalking their high school and who end up having to time travel to prevent the end of the world. Along the way we are introduced to the juiced out jock who has fly blood and whose father forces him to wear a television on his hand to hide his abnormality (!), the school mascot, a huge stuffed grizzly bear who was abducted from his home, Planet Starclaw, and whose insides are retrofitted into a time machine by aliens (!), and the ageless student stuck in Detention for 19 years who passes time in purgatory by solving an equation predicting the end of the universe (!).
While Detention liberally cribs elements from 80’s and 90’s films like Scream, Clueless, The Breakfast Club, and Back to the Future, it is also highly reminiscent of other more recent retro-styled flicks like Napoleon Dynamite, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and well, pretty much everything else Michael Cera has ever been in.
But lest you think Detention is simply another self-referential teen movie, it is too a pretty good horror comedy. The film introduces a nifty new slasher in the form of Cinderhella, a blade-wielding combination of Carrie‘s vengeful prom queen and The Toolbox Murders‘ bandage-swathed butcher Coffin Baby. While the tone is always light, the gore is often heavy with Detention portraying decapitations, dismemberment, bodily explosions and other wet entertainments for the audience to cheer at.
At its best Detention reminded me of a teen styled Joe R. Landsdale fantasy tale, comparable to the second and third Drive-In books, in which events spiral so far past normalcy that they take on their own internal logic and consistency. Coupled with solid performances from largely unknown teen actors Shanley Caswell, Josh Hutcherson and Spencer Locke and a 90’s era soundtrack that would be impressive in a movie with ten times the budget, Detention is a film that will not only appeal to teenagers obsessed with the 90’s but those of us who had to live through them as well.
3 1/2 out of 5