Detention (2011)

JULY 28, 2012


I was curious to check out Detention after some promising word from SXSW, but two things kept me from buying a ticket for its very small theatrical run. One was the director's abhorrent behavior on social media sites, calling people idiots for liking the Saw films and generally just being unpleasant - kind of a turn off, and left me cold on the idea of supporting the film (he paid for the release himself, from what I understand). The other was that most of the folks who really liked it compared it to Scott Pilgrim, a film that wore me out after about 40 minutes. While I may love Jim Steinman songs and other things dubbed as "excessive", I DO have my limits, and it just seemed like the movie would be something that annoyed me after a while, and thus I figured I'd wait until it hit home video.

So I'm quite surprised to report that I actually more or less enjoyed the movie, despite some issues. The hyper-stylized approach wasn't as pervading as I had feared, and the slasher plot, which I figured would be discarded as the movie dove into nuttier territory (time travel, mostly), actually had a satisfying resolution. If you can get through the first 15 minutes, which is where most of the stuff that really irked me occurred, and accept that the slasher angle is just one of many, then you'll probably enjoy it to some degree.

That first 15 minutes though, yikes. The film isn't ten seconds old before a character is already spewing out pages of dialogue, and as it continues you're also asked to read on-screen info, watch flashbacks, and process shots that rarely last most than a second. Then the person behind all of this information is killed, and then we meet our heroine, who takes us through a similar graphic/flashback/voice-over heavy spiel telling us HER story. In fact, I began to seriously wonder if the entire movie would be this sort of information overload, with the filmmakers demanding you keep up (or watch the movie again) in order to take anything from it.

But luckily it slows down after that. It's still hyper, but the on-screen graphics are more or less done away with, and once we get everyone's back-story and relation to each other out of the way the movie's Ritalin kicks in and we can focus on the story, which finds a killer named Cinderhella picking off our group one by one, something only our heroine (a very charming Shanley Caswell) seems to notice. The problem is Cinderhella is the "hero" of an in-movie slasher series, and since everyone is so self-absorbed and drama-addicted, it's assumed that she's just looking for attention or trying to win over the guy across the street, who is dating her former best friend.

And yeah, the slasher plot is sort of half-assed, but I've seen far worse examples (Don't Go In The Woods comes to mind, and that's not something I wish to occur). But it's given JUST enough care that you never forget about it, and I was shockingly wrong with my guess of who the killer was, so that's always laudable. Plus, the kills are appreciatively gory, with an acceptable mix of CGI and on-set makeup providing some pretty great murders - I particularly enjoyed one character's casual beheading late in the film. The Cinderhella mask is also perfect for this sort of thing; sort of creepy, but not so much that you're scared of it (it IS a comedy). Oddly, the killer from the actual Cinderhella movie (who we see torturing someone in a parody of Saw) is much goofier than the "real world" counterpart, so there's something.

It's also got some other out of nowhere genre elements, adding to the movie's kitchen sink appeal. But the surprising thing is, except for the guy who has "Fly blood", they all tie together in a satisfying way. Early on we see a Polaroid of what appears to be someone performing a sex act on the school's mascot (a grizzly bear), and through the movie's time travel plot we not only find out its origin, but also get a payoff for another gag involving a character who they meet in detention. And without spoiling the specifics, one character's obsession with the 90s has a nutty explanation that helps solve the central mystery. For a movie that can sound like it was written during an epic coke binge, I was surprised how relatively tight it was, paying off nearly everything despite how random it seemed at first.

Speaking of the 90s, I also appreciated the specificity of the references. Nothing drives me bonkers more than when a period piece has a sort of "Greatest Hits" approach, name-checking only the biggest bands and movies of the time. No, here we get someone talking about watching a laserdisc of Freejack or trying to work "We gotta Fled" into conversation - that's attention to detail I can respect. There's also a montage showing a character through different years, and while some of it is top hit stuff (impressive for a different reason - the rights to secure the song must have taken a toll on the movie's small budget, put up by the director himself), for 2005 it's The Bravery's "Honest Mistake", which is the sort of song you'd hear a lot but wasn't necessarily a huge crossover hit (a lazier person would probably go with one of Kelly Clarkson's songs of that year).

The only thing keeping it out of "love" territory (besides a supporting role from Dane Cook, who just this week reminded the world of what an awful person he is) was that the tone jumped around just as often as the genres. Whenever the movie dipped into sincere mode (like the skateboarding "date" between Caswell and Hutcherson), it felt like it belonged in a different movie, and while some of the slasher scenes are played for laughs, others seemed like they were legitimately trying to scare the audience - it's gotta be one or the other. As a result it was a very schizo viewing experience, because I could never tell whether or not I was supposed to give a shit about anything that was happening. Since Scream comes up a lot whenever people discuss the film, I might as well use that as an example of how to have the biting humor and winks but still feel something for the folks being stalked. Here, more often than not I'm pretty sure we're not (one character explodes, and the witnesses simply shrug), but those moments of (relative) emotion throw it all off.

On the Blu-ray's "Cheat Mode" these are referred to as breathers for the audience, but that's a bit odd as anyone that can handle the movie's breakneck pace and delivery probably wouldn't need (want?) the break. But it's also one of the few times on the feature - which mostly amounts to a multi-participant commentary, where we see the speakers in typical interview settings - that the storytelling is addressed. Most of it is given to the actors discussing their characters or how they felt while shooting this or that scene, and LOTS of fawning over one another. Not that I expect anyone to be like "Dane Cook is a piece of shit", but I think anyone bothering to watch the movie this way would rather hear from the director or screenwriter (who pop up less frequently than you'd expect) about a certain scene than hear the actress explain what a big fan she is (or Cook himself saying that he's like Aerosmith and appeals to many generations). There are occasional bits of trivia ("This was the last scene to be shot"), some on-set photos and raw footage of takes, but I'd say 90% of it is the actors just being actor-ly, so if that's not your thing, you can probably skip around and sample it on your favorite scenes.

The other bonus features aren't much more exciting; the screen tests for Caswell (solo and with some of the others) are again, only exciting to people who love the acting process, and only a die hard Dane Cook fan can possibly appreciate four minutes of him blowing takes by laughing at his own improvised lines. The best is the rehearsal for the big fight between the killer and the hero, as it's done with stunt guys (heroes!) and someone bothered to go through and put in the CGI graphics of dismemberment or destruction when appropriate. For a movie that he financed himself (and considering how outspoken he is on Twitter), it's strange that Kahn barely appears in any of the bonus features - he provided two commentary tracks for Torque (also mocked here), why not a single one for something a little closer to his heart?

At any rate, it's not an easy film to digest, and even if you're on board your tolerance level may vary. For me it had just enough admirable creativity and applause worthy lines ("How could you, strange unknown black guy?"), and after 300+ slashers for HMAD, I can always respect one that goes off the beaten path. However, I should stress that movies like this should be the exception, not the rule.

What say you?


  1. I really dug it a lot. I felt the same way about Kahn too--the guy just doesn't seem very endearing, but he made a fine movie. I think Detention will make a fine double feature with The Cabin in the Woods some day, or at least I'd program the hell out of it.

    I actually might have been most shocked by the sincerity of it all--yeah, it's irreverent as all hell, but I think most of the characters were treated and acted like human beings, especially Caswell's character.

  2. I also had a great time watching Detention (but I really liked Scott Pilgrim too so go figure). Like you, I found the film well put together and not at all as random as you would think it would be. I had no idea about the director's online behavior - it's really too bad, he's got something here worth watching - no need to tarnish it by crapping on Saw fans.
    I reviewed the film here (with an RPG twist):

    @Brett - that would make a sweet double bill. I think that Detention and Cabin are the two best comedies I've seen this season.


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