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Friday, August 2, 2013

Detention

Detention
2011
Joseph Kahn

There is usually a part of the review where I attempt to summarize the plot to at least give the viewer a very basic idea of what the story is about.  Detention won’t allow me to do this easily. Sure, I could talk about Cinderhella, a fictional slasher that is stalking the kids of Grizzly Lake high school for real. I could mention the convoluted body swapping time travel sub-plot, or the space bear.  This wouldn’t adequately express the story, which all of this plus a dozen more plot threads constantly crashing and tumbling into each other in what appears to be a chaotic mess but manages to reveal (at least some) structure underneath.

Nonetheless, I will attempt to summarize it the best I can: Someone is stalking high school kids, and the mystery surrounding the killer’s identity stretches all the way back to a series of events at the same school in 90’s. Also, there is a guy with fly blood.

The pace of the film is relentless, visual gags are tossed in with verbal humor constantly, only to abruptly switch gears and do a little bloodletting. Primarily this is a comedy, what horror exists is mostly played off as cartoonish gore.  There is a particular obsession with the 1990’s that weaves its way throughout the narrative, and just when you think it’s a peculiarity of the story, it’s revealed to have a purpose.  This is the case throughout the movie, where throwaway jokes or visuals are often revealed to connect a portion of the plot to the larger story.

For the most part, the young cast manages to deal with the bizarreness of everything admirably.  Shanley Caswell plays Riley Jones, ostensibly the main protagonist, and despite the absurd and deadly situations she’s thrown into, manages to keep the character grounded and even evokes a note of sympathy for her endless social failings. Dane Cook doesn’t exactly stretch himself playing the sarcastic Principle Verge, but he doesn’t distract from the scenes he’s in either.

Visually the film is gorgeous; each frame is often filled with little details which warrant repeat viewings to catch all the things that were missed. The low budget is only really evident when CGI blood and fire appear on screen, but then again this can be a problem for even large budget films.  The practical effects look very good, Cinderhella has a fun design, and I wouldn’t mind a spin-off movie of her(?) exploits. The occasional exploding person or dog is always welcome.

There is a growing cult around ‘Detention'. I think it was initially dismissed by a lot of viewers because it’s easy to take one look at it and mistake it for one of the endless Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer spoofs (Disaster Movie (2008), Meet the Spartans (2008), etc.). It doesn't help that the director, Joseph Kahn’s other film of note is, Torque (2004), not exactly a confidence builder (although Torque is secretly better that its reputation and for all the wrong reasons.). ‘Detention’ draws heavily from Scream (1996) and Donnie Darko (2001), and while not exactly a spoof, it’s more of a deconstruction of these arguably already deconstructionist films.  Detention is a difficult film to categorize and occasionally even difficult to watch but, if nothing else it succeeds because it’s very funny.

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