Assigning a movie to a specific genre is not only helpful as a means to categorise them, it’s also a useful marketing tool. Horror and science fiction fans in particular can have a voracious appetite for their favourite genre, once you’ve successfully marketed your movie as horror or sci-fi, then half the battle is won, you have your target demographic in the palm of your hand. Of course it doesn’t hurt to cast your net a little wider by combining a few popular genres. Make a sci-fi-horror hybrid and you can double your audience, make a sci-fi-horror-kung fu-rom com and you’re covering a LOT of bases, it’ll be an incoherent catastrophe of course, but if it gets more bums on seats then it’s all good, right? RIGHT? The answer, of course, is no, it’s a horrible idea, but Detention writer-director Joseph Kahn has apparently read my diary and done exactly that, creating cinema’s first high school-slacker-slasher-time travel-sci-fi-romcom, but not as a shrewd or cynical attempt at mass market appeal, this is experimental filmmaking with the emphasis on mental.
The plot is too outlandish and too gloriously inventive to be spoiled here, but the (very) general gist is that a slasher killer popularised in the, thankfully fictional, Cinderhella franchise has begun a very real, murderous rampage at Grizzly Lake high school. This basic, Scream-esque formula is only a jumping off point for a film that also combines elements of Clueless, Donnie Darko, Scott Pilgrim vs the World and Heathers, whilst retaining a lunatic sensibility and identity all of its own. It’s a tough film to write about without spoiling it a little, the element of surprise is very much key to the movie’s success. In much the same way a movie like the Zucker brother’s glorious Airplane fires off gags at a rate so fast that you never have to wait very long for one you like, Detention does the same thing with ideas, throwing them into the mix thick and fast, the most surprising thing is how many of those ideas stick. Genres are gleefully mashed together, the fourth wall is broken into a thousand pieces, there’s nothing Detention doesn’t try to squeeze into its slight 93 minute running time, and little that doesn’t work, it’s nothing if not ambitious.
Kahn proves himself to be equally proficient as both writer and director. The script is sharp, witty, inventive and quotable, with some smart satire aimed at the cyclical nature of trends and fashion. The camera work and editing are combined to wonderful, energetic effect. The music choices are absolutely pitch perfect throughout (the soundtrack is music to the ears of any 90’s child with a taste for guilty pleasure garbage).
The cast nail it too. There’s a uniformly terrific ensemble cast at work in Detention (even Dane Cook is decent) , but the central trio of Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke and Josh Hutcherson (from The Hunger games and a thousand teenage girl’s bedroom walls) are particularly excellent. Some might suggest that they were gifted such a marvelous script that they couldn’t fail, but poor casting might have rendered these smart mouthed kids obnoxious, whereas instead the cast wield the gloriously witty script like a weapon and they absolutely KILL.
The only negative I can think of is that I don’t feel that Detention will reward repeat viewings. Sure, you might uncover a few more interesting details of the labyrinthian plot, but once that element of surprise is gone it might lose much of it’s appeal.
Many people will no doubt find Detention and it’s attention deficit approach to genre and ideas very irritating, even smug, it’s certainly not for everyone. I found it to be a blazingly original triumph of free spirited, experimental cinema, which, in a landscape of seemingly endless sequels and remakes, could not be any more welcome.
Director: Joseph Kahn
Writers: Joseph Kahn, Mark Palermo
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke
Runtime: 93 min