Let’s Talk About ‘Detention’

Director: Joseph Kahn
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke, Dane Cook
Cinematographer: Christopher Probst
Original Release Date: April 13, 2012

It’s April 2012, a film by the name of Detention has just released. It’s a satirical horror, but to me could also be described as a coming of age slasher SciFi-dramedy. Detention is very misleading because the actual “detention” of the movie plays a very small part in the plot. Mostly because there is a lot going on in this Joseph Kahn-directed adventure that stars Shanley Caswell and Josh Hutcherson as friends who must stop a stalking serial killer that has invaded their small town. It’s certainly not a film for everyone because it takes influence from other films and puts its own twists and turns from them into a plot that involves time travel, body-switching, being stuck in detention for almost a decade, and more. Despite never really giving the plot or characters time to breathe with the events, Detention is one of my all-time favorite movies just from the sheer absurdity of it all and the places they go with a simple slasher in the smalltown premise. It’s a celebratory horror-tinged sensory overload, if you will. 

There’s a lot of layers to Detention. At the heart of the movie, it’s about growing up in the grand scheme of life, where nothing else matters because nothing else exists outside of the city the characters live in. The absurdity of life and even facing the end of the world won’t stop teenagers from being teenagers. That’s being generous though. In reality, Detention is a car crash of different movies and their genres wrapped in a pop-culture filled script. It’s witty, fast-paced and hilarious, where it doesn’t really dwell on what’s happening but continues onward with its narrative containing a lot of moving parts. Even on the peripheral of the main story, there’s the Cinderhella Killer, but the segments are so seemingly detracted from it that they’re regulated to off-hand dialogue that’ll be mentioned later, or filling out the scenes as the main plot gradually gets figured out as the body count rises.

The main character Reily, a depressed vegan, isn’t having the best day. She’s nearly overdosed on pills and only decided not to because of her favorite song coming on the radio. With an already broken foot in a cast, she sets out for high school, the location where most of the film takes place. The bulk of the film rests on the shoulders of our young protagonist and the larger cast of students who all have their own things going on. Josh Hutcherson as Clapton Davis is the incorrigible slacker student that we have all known at some point, trying to get by on their wits and the fact that he’s a popular kid and liked by all. Then, there’s the high school bully, Billy, who wants to rip Clapton’s head off because he’s dating Ione (Spencer Locke) who has her own Freaky Friday situation.

Courtesy of IMDb

For a horror movie, Detention is extremely witty in its approach to the killer disguising themselves as Cinderhella, an in-universe movie villain that opens the film with their first kill and visually sets us up for the on-screen graphics and characters meta-speaking to us about what’s going on. The dialogue is full of phrases that will make you reflect on an earlier plot point or character motivation that eventually pans out to make you realize why things are the way they are. For example, Ione was previously best friends with Riley because she seemingly knew about Riley’s crush on Clapton but does a heel turn and begins seeing him. To us, she’s the bitchy popular child to our nerdy main heroine, but there’s actually a good reason why the two drifted apart. Ione and her mother switched minds so she could win a dance competition. So Ione is living life in her mother’s body in 1992, while her mother is in her daughter’s body in the present 2011. This is just one of the many haphazard parts to this movie that you just have to accept and go with because the characters do the same and don’t really think hard on it.

I think part of the charm in Detention comes from its nonstop craziness. It presents itself as a coming of age teenage movie coupled with the frankensteining of genres for good measure. The direction and effects are reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, yet Detention has its own identity and energy, and it has loads of it to expel. Taking almost none of the typical horror cues, the soundtrack and sound design don’t try to anticipate or set us up for the score but are more comedic and timely to help a joke land or add tension. 

Josh Hutcherson and Shanley Caswell in Detention (2011)
Courtesy of IMDb

The majority of the movie is a referencing machine for humor that eventually pays off as the movie progresses. Everything from Canadian behavior, The Breakfast Club, time travel, and horror movie tropes are all at play as the movie rolls on. The haphazard direction of the movie is divided into chapters to give a certain student their own moment that just adds to the crazy appeal like Billy, whose secret is that he’s part Fly. When it isn’t taking a moment for the students to figure themselves out, who the killer is, or how they’ll tackle life ahead of them as Prom approaches, Detention has heart and has much to say regarding life and relationships. It’s just buried under dizzying special effects that are decent for an independent film and for which Kahn used his own money to produce.

As far as horror films go, Detention is never going to be high on anyone’s list because of its deceptive nature. Everything about the movie is actively deceiving from the poster to the opening moments. It’s a shock and energetic bolt of comedy with fusions of genres that have parodies and satires. But at the end of it all, Detention acknowledges its own insanity and doesn’t expect you to be okay with it. It’s not a movie for everyone and I understand every reason why you’d come away feeling like you’ve just wasted 88 minutes of your life. For those that read this and are interested enough, I hope this gem of an indie film fits nicely in your “underrated” section.

Rating: ★★★★

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