I…wh….wait…what…….but the…wh….what is movie?!
Detention has been on my Netflix list for at least a year or more now. I’d known it about forever and simply forgot about it for the longest time but I needed a movie for today and this one felt perfect. I’d already heard that this is a shining example of a movie you’re going to either absolutely love or completely hate but fuck you convention because I thought it was merely ok.
Detention is….Jesus I have no idea how to even summarize this thing. Within the fiction of the movie there is a horror series called Cinderhella and someone dressed up as the killer from those movies is murdering high school students in this movie. It sounds simple but there is also a time travelling stuffed bear mascot that plays a very central part in everything, brain and body swapping, alien invasions, and about a billion other random pieces of business that occur as well. Its cinematic ADHD, never content to stick with one thing for too long before it bounces over to the next.
It reminded me a lot of John Dies at the End as both movies feature central characters who never seem surprised at all of the insane shit that is constantly happening around them. No matter how ridiculous Detention gets, and believe me it gets very, VERY, ridiculous, none of the characters are affected or at all shocked that any of this is taking place. It does create a bit of a disconnect for the audience but at the same time, I really don’t think this movie would be better if you had the characters continuously pointing out “Hey guys this is pretty crazy right?” It would get tiresome as they would have to do it in nearly every scene and yes normally the characters not being interested makes it hard for the audience to be interested but here we have a rare exception.
When a movie tries this hard to be hip and weird it often backfires painfully as it comes off as a movie that is jumping up and down, waving its arms and begging you to please pay attention to it. It usually comes off as forced but here I give writer/director Joseph Kahn (who apparently largely funded the movie himself which isn’t surprising as I can’t see any studio knowing what the hell to do with this thing) a lot of credit as he makes everything flow surprisingly well. For a movie where the plot seems to drastically change from one scene to the next, it usually doesn’t feel too disjointed and generally remains fairly easy to follow.
Detention also contains more pop culture references than perhaps any movie ever made. Hardly a scene goes by without someone name dropping often obscure pieces of cinema or any number of things from primarily the 1990’s. A fight sequence is based around two characters using the fighting styles of Steven Seagal from On Deadly Ground and Patrick Swayze from Road House. A character makes a passing reference to having people over so they can all watch Freejack on Laserdisc. The Backstreet Boys appear on the soundtrack at least twice. And so on. For the most part it all feels eerily natural and doesn’t come off, let’s say Juno-y where the pop culture references felt obnoxious rather than organic. Yes they do start to wear thin by the end as you can only have so much of characters speaking in references as opposed to actual dialogue, but they do far better with it than I would have expected.
Hey remember Dane Cook? He’s in this thing as the principal and it’s a strangely non-comedic role. I don’t mean that in the way most Dane Cook roles are non-comedic in that he is not a funny human being, but in that his character doesn’t seem to get to tell a lot of jokes. It made me continuously wonder why he was around. I mean he does fine I guess just…I don’t get it? The other characters are definitely more fun. I quite liked Shanley Caswell as Riley the lead girl and Josh Hutcherson (whose Hunger Games fame is likely a huge reason why this movie saw the light of day to begin with) is also enjoyable as Clapton Davis, who serves as this movie’s Ferris Bueller. They come the closest to playing actual human beings and even have a few genuinely nice moments together. My favourites though were some of the supporting characters, such as the way too hyped football coach who gave me the movie’s biggest laugh (“MAN I AM ALWAYS READY FOR FOOTBALL! *SLAMS HOOD OF A CAR*) and a bully whose sole goal is to murder Clapton Davis and speaks almost entirely in over the top threats.
Oh and yes there is quite a bit of gore but the majority of it is CG and quite fake looking unfortunately. I will say though that a casual decapitation via axe got a laugh out of me.
That sounds like a lot of positives but in the end I still only liked Detention, nothing more, nothing less. While I certainly got a kick out of the near constant references to the 1990’s and there are some good laughs, a huge part of the appeal is not knowing where the movie is going to go next and now that I know, I think I’m good. Yes they do a commendable job stitching everything together but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all interesting. The movie’s pace is so relentless that it does get exhausting by the end and for a comedy horror film it doesn’t have any real scares and only a few big laughs. There are lots of smiles in between those laughs though. It’s all pleasant, though rarely anything more.
If you’re willing to let yourself get swept up in all of Detention’s insanity then there is definitely fun to be had but I can’t see this being something I will revisit. I can see why people would absolutely adore this movie and I can also see why people would loathe everything about it. I fall in the middle. It’s a movie I respect more than I genuinely enjoyed though I am certainly happy we live in a world where it is able to exist at all.