Directed by Joseph Kahn
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Detention is a film I heard little about plot-wise before watching it, but I did know that it is rather divisive – people seem to either really like it or flat out hate it – and I can definitely see why. It’s without a doubt the most interesting flick I’ve seen thus far this year, but to say it’s not for everyone is beyond an understatement. It’s a warning… If you decide to check it out based on this review, don’t blame me should you fall in the “hate it” category as my tastes tend to run toward the unconventional, and Detention is the most unconventional film I’ve seen in ages, probably since Southland Tales, which I also enjoyed immensely, much to the disdain of many others.
After watching the Detention Blu-ray, four words came to mind: ambitious, weird, gutsy, and funny. Director Joseph Kahn and his co-writer Mark Palermo have crafted something quite special here. Part slasher, part monster movie, part time travel tale, part teen angst exploration, part comedy, part romance – and that’s just on the surface. It’s also super self-aware, drops non-stop pop culture references throughout its 93-minute runtime, has at least four other movies-within-the-movie, and skewers just about every horror convention you can think of. So, yeah, I’ll go ahead and say it: Detention is pure genius.
But enough praise for now. Let’s take a look at the storyline for a brief moment. There’s a killer on the loose in Grizzly Lake targeting teens at the local high school. But it’s not just any killer – this one tailors his/her appearance on Cinderhella, a character in a popular horror movie franchise. Meanwhile the typically nerdish but endearing Riley (Caswell), stung over her former best friend, Ione (Locke), stealing the affections of her crush Clapton (Hutcherson), toys with committing suicide, only to be interrupted by the fake Cinderhella, from whom she manages to escape. Of course the cops don’t believe her story so the killer remains on the loose and under the radar. More drama results from Clapton’s feud with Ione’s ex, Billy (Bagley), who treats Clapton like his own personal punching bag. On top of everything else, it’s almost prom time, and fellow nerd Sander (Johnson) hopes Riley will realize Clapton only has eyes for Ione and go with him to the big dance. But that’s just the broad strokes; to say any more would ruin the fun of those experiencing Detention for the first time. The less you know, the better.
As for the “detention” of the title, it’s not until the third act that our lead characters – and several secondary ones as well – find themselves confined to the school grounds by Principal Verge (Cook) until they figure out who the killer is or one of them confesses. So, obvious comparisons to The Breakfast Club meets Scream aside, the actual detention part of the story is truly less important than anything that comes before it or transpires in the final scenes of the film. It’s a bit of misdirection that I really dug and exemplifies the mindset of Kahn and his team.
And speaking of those final scenes, they do drag on a bit. Just when I thought the movie was over, there was another denouement. Then another. But considering all the balls-out fearlessness of what came before them, I can be forgiving. Which must have also been the case for Caswell, who gets battered and bruised in her portrayal of Riley, with regard to her director. It’s not often you see an actress be put through such a ringer, particularly in a little indie film like this one, but she gives her all and then some. As do the special effects people, who accomplish a LOT on what had to have been a tight budget. And with respect to Hutcherson, who has now exploded into a mega star thanks to The Hunger Games, I honestly enjoyed his performance here more than in that blockbuster. He’s extremely natural and boy-next-doorish in a Michael J. Fox kind of way that didn’t quite transmit in THG.
Before I get into the special features, I have to give huge kudos to both the soundtrack (of course a movie like this has to have good tunes, and both Brain & Melissa with their original music and music supervisor Dan Rodgers did amazing jobs) and especially the opening credits. I’ve seen a lot of movies with a lot of creative title sequences over the years but nothing like Detention‘s. They’re ridiculously clever and set the tone right away as to what type of flick this is.
Now, what about those special features? The “Cheat Mode” is very fun and enlightening. It serves as a “pop-up” kind of commentary that totally enhances the experience of a repeat viewing. The other two featurettes are entertaining (who doesn’t love Dane Cook?) while the screen tests are your typical “let’s find something to put on the disc” kind of thing to me, but no doubt some people will appreciate them. Do we even need to say how great the Blu-ray looks anymore? If so, it does, and the sound is pretty awesome, too.
So hopefully I’ve piqued the interest of at least a few of you enough to seek out Detention despite the rocky road it’s had to this point, including our own HorrorChick’s awfully negative opinion of it. One man’s (or woman’s) trash… Different strokes… Whatever cliché you choose… The fact is I loved it and am sure that, based on originality alone, you’ll see Detention mentioned again by me when it comes time for our “best of” lists at the end of 2012.
4 out of 5
3 out of 5