Review: Detention (2011)

Riley (Shanley Caswell) is an outcast with a crush on stud Clapton (Josh Hutcherson) and a rabid best friend, Sander (Aaron David Johnson), who can’t take no for an answer. Unfortunately for her, though, Clapton only has eyes for Ione (Spencer Locke). After being completely humiliated one day, Riley decides enough is enough, but her suicidal plans are quickly thwarted by the arrival of Cinderhella: a masked maniac who has chosen Grizzly Lake as her latest target. With the school soon reduced to mayhem, Riley and her fellow students must find a way to work together and bring an an end to the mindless killings.

The above summary is merely a vague outline of Detention, a film that’s bursting at the seams with buffoonery, pop-culture references and eccentric characters. Director Joseph Kahn and screenwriter Mark Palmero’s screenplay frequently bounces from one extreme to the other, allowing very little time for respite. This approach works in their favour, though, and enables the thin, overdone premise to take on a form of its own: a sort of sci-fi, horror and social commentary crossbreed.

It’s fast-paced, crammed with wit and far more left-field than you’d expect. Take, for example, the interesting gimmick of having not only text messages but also definitions of slang words appear on screen from every which way. Whether or not this has been done to make up for a lack of originality doesn’t matter when you have a director as enthusiastic as Kahn. He relinquishes everything into Detention, to the point where you’re left scratching your head wondering how he achieved so much with such a limited budget. From a whip-smart opening scene that’s about at meta as they come to time-travelling bears, Kahn let’s Detention spiral out of control to the point where you either go with it or you don’t.

The way Kahn shoots is invigorating and commendably matches the haphazard-like way in which the screenplay has been constructed. In turn, Christopher Probst’s cinematography adds a fantastical feel to proceedings, and the pop music-heavy soundtrack does wonders to further inject fuel into what’s already a quick-witted and insanely nimble experience. The horror undertones don’t quite work as well as the sci-fi ones that carry the film, and the content sometimes feels a little too meta and free living for the average viewer to make sense of, but the mix of styles is nothing short of impressive.

Forced to simply subscribe to the madness, the cast excel, with Caswell and Hutcherson making a huge impression and infusing some warmth into their predictably uneasy and cantankerous on screen personas. Cook, too, is a terrific fit as Grizzly Lake’s dismissive principal, and works well to keep the film’s slight narrative intact. Even with all its wackiness, however, Detention remains a solid teen film. But, to get the most satisfaction, let loose, succumb to the madness and let your eyes and ears soak up every last minute, from moonlight skateboard rides to Hanson-soundtracked raves.

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