Detention (2011)

Detention opens with an obnoxious teenager aggressively breaking the fourth wall by telling us about her life in garishly modern, technicolour style, as though she’s channelling a demented character from Clueless. So far, so teen slasher with a gimmick. A couple of minutes in and she’s unceremoniously killed and chucked out of her bedroom window by a masked slasher named Cinderhella (an intentionally glaringly obvious pastiche of the Scream franchise and its ilk) and it’s at this point that you’d do well to remember that all bets are well and truly off.

We’re then whisked away to meet our actual heroine, the least popular girl in Grizzly Lake; Riley (Shanley Caswell). She’s being stalked by Cinderhella, has a broken leg, lusts after her best friend Clapton (Josh Hutcherson), spurns the lecherous advances of Sander and has bitchy talk-fights with her frenemy Ione who in turn wants Clapton for herself, all while avoiding the watchful eye of smarmy Principal Verge (Dane Cook). That description makes it sound like a criminally formulaic teen slashfest but when you add a jock who has potentially acidic vomit as a result of fly blood, a time travelling bear and a bizarre 90′s fixation, and factor in the knowledge that the Cinderhella plotline is merely on the outskirts of proceedings rather than being the focus, then ‘formulaic’ might as well be on the moon, that’s how far away from it we are.

Joseph Kahn‘s music video background is instantly, and annoyingly, obvious. It looks great and as glossy as you’d expect but the action is nauseatingly non-stop and viewers like me might crave for a stationary moment or two, just to catch a breath. It’s difficult to figure out whether this was part of Kahn‘s ‘message’ or whether it’s simply a by-product of the bulk of his experience behind the lens.

It’s also obvious that Kahn was trying to subvert the teen flick genre and in many ways he succeeds. At times though, it plays out a little like a Diablo Cody script as directed by Greg Araki via Edgar Wright on speed. It’s cinematic Marmite and as such, some people will embrace the whole thing while others will want to throw something at the screen just to make the nitwit characters stop talking. I don’t even think it’s a generational thing, you’ll either be a fan of this or not, there’s just no scope for anything in between.

The characters are all very one dimensional, and purposely so. Riley is the sort of cynical, self knowing teenager that’s not remotely relatable, but that’s the point. She, and the rest of the cast, are the sort of teenagers that make Juno sound normal, so extreme is their stylised turn of phrase paired with their utter lack of depth and that encompasses the statement that Kahn is trying to make with his 90 minute satire. It’s not a parody, it’s not quite meta enough that the whole thing becomes an annoying farce, and it’s light-hearted enough that, whether you choose to look deeper than the attractive sheen or not, you might just find lots to enjoy here regardless.

Detention will absolutely split audiences down the middle. It’s not always quite as clever, or as subversive as it tries to be but mostly, when it aims for a target, it gleefully hits the bullseye. It’s fast paced, well written and shoehorns in so many references that it’ll keep pop culture nerds thoroughly entertained for multiple viewings. It’s not a sequel, or a remake, or a reboot, or a cynical stab at big budget success and for that I applaud it enthusiastically. More than that though, it’s not quite like anything else I’ve ever seen and so it gets massive points for true originality.

If you find yourself hating it within the first five minutes, persevere. If, by the halfway mark, you still hate it then Detention probably isn’t for you. If that’s the case though, then you’ll be missing out on one of the loudest, most interesting, most orginal genre-mashing movies of the last decade. Give it a whirl, you might just love it.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

One Comment on “Detention”

  1. Phil says:

    Spot on review, Sarah! It’s one of those odd films that you can liken to so many others (I’m not too familiar with Gregg Araki’s work, but I would definitely say it was a Scott Pilgrim-meets-Juno deal), and yet at the same time remains completely individual.
    It’s a pretty relentless ninety minutes, but I think the characters are interesting and likeable enough for the ninety minutes not to seem too empty. Plus, it had some pretty neat camerawork and effects in, which is great.

    Definitely recommended. :D

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