MOVIE REVIEW: DETENTION – Toronto After Dark Review


Detention (2011) | Dir. Joseph Kahn

Take Gregg Araki’s Nowhere and mix it in a blender with Scream, Not Another Teen Movie, My So-Called Life and just a dash of Adderall, then set it on high. The end result would be Detention, a slick sci-fi-horror-romance that is geared towards those who actually remember the 90′s. Director Joseph Kahn has crafted a film that not only serve as homage to the time-gone-by but also takes a stab (pardon the pun) at the absurd obsession with the decade that is serving as today’s fashion trend. Don’t let the cast and the high school setting fool you, the references were made for those who remember the 90′s as it was: really not as cool as people today think it was. Highly cynical, satirical, clever and definitely not post-ironic, Detention is, like, all that and a bag of chips.

Detention follows a group of self-involved teens through their last days of high school, leading up to their prom: Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) is the suicidal plain-Jane outcast and former best friend of head cheerleader and 1992-obsessed Ione (Spencer Locke). The blonde cheerleader has dumped the football jock Billy (Parker Bagley) and is now going out with the popular scenester kid Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson). There is the obligatory tech-savvy Asian (actually named Toshiba) and the geek with a crush (à la John Cryer in Pretty in Pink). While all this teen drama is going on, a serial killer, Cinderhella (the title character from a movie within the movie), is on the loose and going after the teens. The Principal (Dane Cook) has decided that the killer is in fact one of the students and forces a detention on the night of the prom until one of them admits to being the masked murderer, ultimately saving the entire world from it’s destruction. Ok, just Grizzly Lake, but when you’re in high school, what else is there?

The opening of the film is immediately self-aware, the characters know they are not only in a movie, but a movie that is mocking themselves. Here we see the morning routine of a brunette bitch (Beautiful, Intelligent, Talented, Charismatic and Hoobastank) talking directly to us of her self-importance while treating the rest of her family like garbage. Immediately unlikable and vapid, she is suddenly and violently murdered by Cinderhella, much to the relief of the audience. What starts off seemingly like a teen horror-parody moves into the realms of sci-fi and drama, completely filled to overflowing with pop culture references such as Donnie Darko, Not Another Teen Movie and Scream. In-jokes and director nods abound, Detention may be Kahn’s way of mocking the current youth generation or he is being completely earnest in paying homage. Quick, witty and everywhere to be seen, Detention allows itself to have fun without lowering the bar and backing into the satire corner.

A personal favorite are the ubiquitous references to the 1990′s teen drama My So-Called Life. Yes, the main character Riley outright admits she is dressed as Angela Chase, but some of the musical score in the movie could be found in any episode of that short lived series. A scene with Riley running down school hallway parallels the opening credits of My So-Called Life. And when the two main characters Riley and Clapton talk openly in front of their houses, both on either sides of the street, it beautifully mirrors those touching scenes where Angela Chase and Brian Krackow would confide in one another because no one else was around. These scenes were not only well acted by the young cast (put your reservations of Dane Cook aside just for now) but they provided an emotional depth to the story, and a well-deserved rest from the attack-your-senses overload approach the rest of the film takes.

Text messages between characters fill up the screen, fast edits and saturated colours overwhelm the eyes and the soundtrack is appropriately current while being appropriately 90′s (never thought Backstreet Boys would be so prominently featured in a movie again, did you?). Kahn is no stranger to the world of music video making, which is probably why the film looks and feels the way it does at times. The camera and action are constantly moving, just like the overstimulated teenagers of today. The short scenes cut quickly and move the story along at an equally fast pace, while building the characters in this surprisingly engaging story.

The story isn’t complex (although it does get confusing) and the narrative seems loose as it weaves from teen horror to sci-fi, comedy to teen angst melodrama. Detention definitely aims for style over substance, just like it’s post-MTV generation audience and subject matter, but it’s the subtle nuances of this film that really work. Yes, almost every shot has a colour pallette taken from Ke$ha’s make-up kit, and the music video tone creates a sense of constant frenzy, but it compliments the over-the-top and outlandish story from beginning to end.

Joseph Kahn may appear to have a distaste for teenagers, it is almost impossible to tell after viewing Detention. On one hand the story and dialogue doesn’t lower itself to what would be expected of this type of movie: Kahn is aware of who his audience is and allows for us to figure out the references without spoon feeding us. On the other hand, his portrayal of the text message addicted and pop culture savvy teens in this digital age borderlines insult and may just very well be a mockery of an entire generation. It is difficult to say, and it hardly matters. Detention is completely entertaining from beginning to end. While it may be appealing to the teenage generation it portrays, it offers much more entertainment for adult fans of the genre. For those who remember a crimped side pony tail or the shift in music in the 90′s when grunge was finally kicked to the curb and superficial pop dominated the airwaves, this film’s for you.

- Nick Watson

About the Author

Nick Watson

Horror movie enthusiast and self proclaimed Hitchcock geek. Nick prefers: the classics over modern. Rep cinemas over the multiplexes. And his whiskey over ice. His favourite movies include The Red Shoes, Funny Girl, Strangers on a Train and An American Werewolf in London.

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One Comment

  1. #DETENTION was runner-up @TADFilmFest Summer Screenings for Audience Award. @tricky_watson has the review! #FUN

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