Detention is an absolutely insane movie, one that acts like a parody of horror movie satires — the most prominent of which for most audience members is going to be Scream. Scream is mentioned multiple times by name, and one of the characters within Detention is referred to as a Sidney Prescott parallel. However, this isn’t really a horror film; it uses its horror idea as a backdrop for the comedy, drama and craziness of its proceedings.
The lead is a suicidal teenager named Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell), someone either hated or ignored by the rest of her school. She also finds herself the target of a serial killer who dons the costume of one of the slasher series that is in this universe, Cinderhella. She’s enamored with a hipster named Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson), who himself is in a relationship with Ione Foster (Spencer Locke). These are the three main teenagers of the picture, although there are many more personalities that we’ll meet as it progresses. Dane Cook also has a role, playing the principal of the high school, and doing so mostly with a straight face.
To attempt to describe the whole idea of Detention would be futile. It’s too insane, contains too many creative ideas, and jumps around too much to even begin to describe. All I know is that by the end of it, everything works within the film’s boundaries and by its rules. It might not appear to all work out in the moment, but once the final reveals take place, I’m not sure if I’d be able to find any holes. And considering how weird the whole enterprise is, that’s quite the feat.
The basic idea, if you can call it that, is to take a look at the ways relationships develop in teenagers, make fun of those who make fun of horror movies, reference the ’90s as often as possible, and throw as many new things at the audience as it can in the 90 minutes for which it plays. Here is a list of things that happen in Detention: A time traveling bear, a woman gives birth to herself, alien lights are seen, a serial killer is on the loose, and there is a movie within a movie within a movie within a movie.
The film has an almost ADD-like attention to the way that its characters interact and how it throws new things at them. They’re always going at the speed of sound, and the movie is right there behind them moving at the same speed. It’s something that makes fun of both the present and the past, while also having a genuinely thoughtful and charming main story, even if it’s just so weird that it’s going to be tough for a lot of potential audience members to follow.
The target audience for a film like Detention is very narrow. If you text and tweet your entire life away, you’ll probably like Detention. And if you happen to have an affinity for ’90s horror, you’ll also probably appreciate quite a lot of what Detention has to offer. I had to wonder for a little bit why it was the ’90s, but then I thought about the main characters, and how that’s their frame of reference. It only makes sense for them to be both nostalgic and critical of this period; they are teenagers, after all.
I really liked Detention. I enjoyed the way that it it’s completely weird, how it subverts genre tropes at every turn, the way it never sticks to one thing for too long, never allowing you to be bored. I even appreciated some of the performances, the strongest of which came from Caswell in the lead, while in the opposite direction, Locke had trouble delivering any line with conviction. Even Dane Cook was okay here, reminding us that director Joseph Kahn can get a good performance out of almost anyone.
Some of the film doesn’t quite work, but I was easily able to overlook its flaws because so much of it is so enjoyable that it’s almost silly to condemn it for the few missteps it makes. Some of the jokes do fall flat, the references to the ’90s get a bit tiresome after a while, a few of the characters are poorly developed archetypes — although that might have been the point — and the adherence to quick pacing rarely allows for solid character interaction, even though the main characters are well-written and are eventually quite fleshed-out.
The special effects are also lacking, although they’re not so bad so as to be a huge detriment. And once you realize that this is an indie film self-financed by Kahn and his crew, and that it was made with only $10 million, you can be a lot more forgiving in that area. Considering how creative the project is, and how much was thrown into it, it’s actually quite amazing how far that $10 million was stretched. The fact that so much of this movie does look as good as it does is incredible, and you can easily forgive the shortcomings in some of the special effects.
Detention is a very enjoyable film, at least, if you fit into its target audience. If you’re not someone who can process such insane circumstances, a lack of focus, and a bevy of ’90s references, then you’ll want to stay away from this film. However, if you can, and this sounds like something for you, you’re probably going to adore it. If nothing else, it’s an ambitious work and I personally found it to be fantastic.