The Film: Detention (2011)
The Principals: In this movie, Dane Cook’s the Principal – chew on that.
Also – there’s Joseph Kahn (director), Shanley Caswell, Josh Hutcherson, Spencer Locke, Aaron David Johnson, and Alison Woods.
The Premise: Cinderhella – a psychotic killer straight out of a slasher movie – stalks the halls of Grizzly Lake High School just before prom. (Oh – there’s also a time-traveling bear, hipster muggers, body-switching, non-stop references to the 1990s, the apocalypse, and a guy with a TV on his hand.)
Is it any good? I really hate answering this question. Defining a movie as “good” or “bad” is such a subjective thing, certain people respond differently to different things, and I firmly believe that certain films can be “so bad they’re good” (The Room) or even “so good they’re bad” (The English Patient).
All that in mind … I’ll throw down the gauntlet and say that Detention isn’t just good. It’s fantastic, kinetic, audacious, hilarious, and a joy to experience.
You may disagree (many people do, and have), and that’s certainly a valid reaction – it may not be your style. But even if the flick itself doesn’t resonate with you, it’s impossible to question the passion, talent, or encyclopedic film knowledge of co-writer/director/sole financier Joseph Kahn, the performances he gets out of a cast that brings their A+ game, or the core of truth that Kahn’s ultimately trying to get at. Me – I sat watching this movie with that uneasy tightrope feeling you get when you’re watching something truly new and unique, when you know the last act’s about to start and you’re thinking “please don’t fuck this up, please don’t fuck this up …”, praying for them to stick the landing and they do, managing to tie everything together into a brilliant little bow and you sit there as the credits spool giddy with awe at what cinema can do when it succeeds at throwing out the rulebook (and if you’ve never had that feeling, I’m truly sorry).
Detention is the Freddy Krueger of modern film (the bastard son of 100 movies), but there are two that loom larger than others. The first, and a clear influence, is Scream. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson used self-referential meta-humor to explore the effect that horror movies have on us and why we watch them in the first place; and in the process gave us a new classic of the genre. The other and more recent film is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which used videogame iconography to illustrate a true hero’s journey from selfish prick to selfless hero. It was a movie that clearly had affection for the games that kids in the ‘80’s grew up with, but it used that imagery to hammer home a simple message to its target audience: Grow up. (And yeah, I realize that Kahn was probably deep into pre-production by the time SP vs TW rolled around, which makes Detention that much more remarkable.)
Detention is bright, fast-paced, candy-colored, and gore-stained. These characters tweet, text, Facebook, are tethered to media – it’s the filter through which they view the world. It’s also, unconsciously or not, the filter through which we view the world – we have become accustomed to viewing things at an ironic middle distance, posting the events of our lives on our Facebook wall and describing them through references to movies, TV shows, music. Especially for those of us who fondly remember the 1990’s (where everything was beautiful, nothing hurt, and the biggest thing we had to worry about was who blew the President), there is a tendency toward nostalgia, to using the media of our childhoods as a form of avoidance – it’s the reason Transformers, Ninja Turtles and GI Joe are still relevant franchises. It’s arrested development, and we’re all Buster Bluth.
This is what Detention is getting at – what effect does culture have on us as a whole? Not just movies, but music and electronics? Why are we trapped recycling nostalgia, and isn’t it time we moved forward, both as individuals and a culture? As one character says near the end of the movie: “the only way to change the past is to change the future”.
And when that bit of wisdom comes – at the end of a movie that has characters you grow to care about and a beating emotional heart somewhere inside its time-traveling bear – it’s earned, and it works … and then it ends on a grace note of a twist that ties everything together and reminds you you’re watching genius.
So yeah – it’s good.
Random anecdotes: Don’t judge this flick because Dane Cook is in it – he only has about five minutes of screentime (and even he comes across as engaged, funny, and sympathetic).
Largely financed by Kahn himself (the only way something like this could get made), and shot on Red Ones.
Detention screens at the Austin Alamo Drafthouse May 19th, with Joseph Kahn in attendance.
Cinematic Soulmates: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Scream. The Breakfast Club. Cabin in the Woods. Donnie Darko. Freaky Friday.