Film Torments: Detention (2012)

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CONCLUDING Horror Month at Film Torments, Andrew takes a look at an outing by a music video director stepping up to feature films. What could go wrong?

What happens when you mix a robotic time travelling bear, a serial killer and American high school troubles into one movie? This may seem like the start of a joke but in fact this is actually all related to the plot of Joseph Kahn’s Detention. A mix of commentary on millennials, pop culture and modern films, this movie is as crass as it is ridiculous.

Director Joseph Kahn is one of the most interesting auteurs of our time with his career driven mainly towards music videos with his signature crazy visuals such as Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’, Muse’s ‘Knights of Cydonia’ and Eminem’s ‘Without Me’. His efforts in feature films make for some wacky concepts and, as a result, are mostly self-financed by Kahn himself, with Detention being his second feature length film. It is therefore unsurprising that Detention is a very polarizing film and one that I have very mixed feelings about.

The plot follows Riley (Shanley Caswell) as a loser high school student who is the least popular person in the whole school. She has the hots for the most popular guy in school Clapton (Josh Hutcherson) and is shown as a being a ‘social justice warrior’, a downer, and suicidal. So when a serial killer dressed up as movie character Cinderhella starts killing students, including trying to kill our main character Riley, the principal (Dane Cook) puts Riley, Clapton, and the rest of our main characters in detention in an effort to lure the killer out.

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From here the plot only gets more and more ridiculous, with time travel due to an alien bear, a man being put in detention for 11 year, and a Freaky Friday-esque body swap. This homage is not the only one, with blatant visual references to The Fly, Saw, and Scream lacking any sort of subtlety or in-joke. These references throughout the movie when they occur are very in your face throughout the film, and ultimately it is these references that make it a horror movie, very little else. To quote the final line in the film: “It’s just high school, it’s not the end of the world.”

Not only is the plot completely random and outrageous, it takes moments to jump out of the narrative to explain backstory in very clunky shorts labelled the way Tarantino would label a chapter. The Lonely Ballad of Billy Nolan is by far one of the biggest ‘WTF am I watching’ moments, which goes from a locker room confrontation to a flashback showing young Billy Nolan finding a meteor in the woods, touching it and disfiguring his hand so much he puts a TV on it for most of his school life and eventually becomes part-human part-fly only to cut back to the locker room. I wish I was joking.

And whilst Kahn’s commentary about how lame stupid everything from narratives to our ideas of what Hollywood executives think movies should be like is be a valid one, it simply doesn’t do enough to carry the film through, and is a very broken and disjointed in how the story is being told. It’s like being told to sit down to be told a story by someone, and them telling you halfway through, only to stop every five minutes to say ‘oh that’s because this happened before’ before continuing to ramble on.

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A big problem I have with the movie is its weird attitudes to portraying young people. Obsessed with the past, a line from a character in the movie is “the 90s are the new 80s”. Clapton is someone obsessed with 90s music and has little aspiration in life other than to run a music criticism website to get free music tickets a plan which is shot down as unrealistic by the principal. Riley herself, a vocal vegetarian is trounced in a debate class by a Canadian who is “supposed to be nice”, she later tucks into a burger.

All in all, our protagonists are shown to be naive and stupid, and not just because they are young, these flaws are portrayed as key parts of who these characters are, which leaves me with a feeling of why should I care? In the end they only redeem themselves by surviving and defeating the antagonist because the plot demands it, and ultimately, the film ends with a cliché of the girl getting the guy and love triumphing over all, saving the day.

Ultimately, would I recommend you go and see this movie? Yes. Yes, I would. It’s so weird and random and so different to everything out there right now that it can be enjoyable in a ‘and now for something completely different’ sort of way. Some part of me actually enjoys this film because of that, and that is ultimately why this film frustrates me. I hope Kahn continues to make films, as his creative vision and grasp on interesting visuals is something that’s desperately needed right now in cinema. His upcoming project, Bodied, should be interesting whenever it comes to the UK.

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