Cult Horror Corner: Detention
The phrase ‘love/hate’ is used too often in reviews, but no film better defines the meaning than Detention. From the very first scene, in which a self proclaimed ‘bitch’ of a high school girl discusses hipsters and popularity before being brutally axed to death, you will know whether you’re going to find this funny, brash and quirky, or the most irritating, smug, ‘indie’ film of the year. Fortunately, I found this hyper, caffeinated teen horror hybrid of Scott Pilgrim, Scream, Heathers, The Fly and Freaky Friday to be a highly enjoyable, if completely ridiculous ride, and one of the most energetic comedies seen recently.
The plot, in its simplest form, is about incredibly unpopular high school girl Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell), depressed and disliked after having fallen out with friend Ione (Spencer Locke) over cool skateboarding slacker Clapton (teen star Josh Hutcherson). When trying to hang herself in school (all taste and decency is out the window in this film’s blackest moments), she is attacked by a serial killer dressed as popular horror character Cinderhella (a clip from Cinderhella is one of the most entertaining moments in this film). Sound simple? Factor in a bullying jock who is part fly, a infamous 1992 pupil who performed a drunken act on the stuffed bear of a school mascot, a character who has swapped minds with the 1992 incarnate of her mother to win a dance contest and a pupil in the past who will destroy their hometown of Grizzly Lake unless the teens can harness the power of time travel to stop them. Still with me? Then you’ll probably love this film.
Throwing so many plot points, strange characters and film references at the wall is bound to mean a lot don’t stick, but the sheer frantic energy of Detention stops it from being boring, and you end up forgetting about just how full of holes the stories are. Some will find it insufferable and too much, but if you’re a fan of horror films, you will smile at just how many references are stuffed in (Scream, clearly one of the main films the plot is based on, is dismissed with “I’m not a retarded Neve Campbell!”), and though some of the subplots don’t work (the ‘The Fly’ homage is a bit too random and forced), others, like the girl whose mind goes back to the nineties, is hilarious. Detention is also unusual in its reference pool, and while there are numerous references to music and film that will see Detention dismissed as just for hipsters (the first minute of the film references once popular indie rock band Hoobastank), it’s nice to see years and dates being shown by alternate means to the norm. What other film, for example, would show the year 2005 by a soundtrack of The Bravery?
The performances are perhaps too cartoonish, but everyone makes what could be one dimensional characters fairly enjoyable. Hutcherson gets to showcase both slacker emptiness and cool heroics, such as the scene in which he chooses Road House over Steven Seagal films to learn how to fight (“Mullet beats pontytail” is a gem of a line), while Caswell makes her character sympathetic, although Detention is more interested in fast paced scenarios and situations than real life characters; it’s basically a living cartoon. Most audiences will be turned off by the ridiculous, silly plot points and smug, hipster tone, but if you can hang on in there, you’ll find invention (the credits sequence is one of the best since Napoleon Dynamite), a love of the horror genre, a lot of laughs and simply some good, dumb fun. After the Canadian sci-fi ending, I hope I’m not the only one hoping for a sequel…
By Harry Ford