Detention: one of 2012's hidden horror gems?

Feature James Stansfield
4 Dec 2012 - 07:47

Having gone straight to DVD in the UK, comedy horror Detention is one of 2012's hidden gems. Here's James to explain why...

In early 2012, the patience of horror movie fans was finally rewarded when Joss Whedon’s The Cabin In the Woods made it on to the big screen at long last. Like Scream in 1997, The Cabin In The Woods was a landmark film for the genre, a horror made for horror fans, by horror fans and a film which is going to be lingering near the top of many people’s ‘best of 2012’ list.

Cabin was a ‘sit up and take notice’ kind of film, and has been covered at length on Den of Geek for its must see quality, but it’s not the only movie to appear in 2012 that had the guts to try something a little bit different within the realms of horror. Step forward Detention. If you were to put Scream, Donnie Darko and Freaky Friday in a blender with a dash of John Hughes, a helping of 90s nostalgia and then serve it up via the medium of Twitter, the end result might look something like this.

Although it was shown at a number of horror movie festivals, including a rapturous reception at FrightFest during 2011, the film enjoyed only a limited stateside release in April of this year, and Detention wasn’t released in the U.K. until 27th August 2012, and only then on DVD and Blu-ray.

The film went largely unnoticed – as direct to DVD films often do - which was a bit of a surprise, considering the film stars Josh Hutcherson, a hot property since The Hunger Games, but obviously not enough to get the film even a one day cinematic release.

The stigma attached to direct-to-DVD releases which feature a now bankable star is that they’re usually bad, earlier efforts, which only see the light of day in order to try and grab a bit of cash. Detention is most definitely none of these things. If you can get on board with it, it is one of the flashiest, genre-crossing, pop culture-referencing, and thrillingly fun 90 minutes of the year.

Before we get into it, it’s perhaps worth noting from just who made Detention. Director and writer Joseph Khan is a very well respected music video director, and chances are you will have seen one of his offerings, but up until Detention he only had one other feature film on his CV: 2004 biker gang rumpus, Torque. Torque was not a good movie. Reviewing it after stumbling across it on television in 2009, your writer called it “seriously awful stuff.”

Given that Khan didn’t direct another film for six years, it’d be logical to conclude that he didn’t like it much either (Detention even takes a sly swipe at the film when one character comments that “this makes about as much sense as that movie Torque”), nor the filmmaking experience it gave him. Thankfully, it seems he spent that time concocting something that would make his return very special indeed. The revelation of just who is behind it is another of Detention’s pleasant surprises.

Detention begins with a monologue from Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods), the most popular girl at Grizzly Lake high school. She is Mean Girl’s Regina George; she is Heathers’ Heather Chandler, except on some kind of fast forward setting. While instructing us on how not to be the total losers she clearly thinks we are, the film bombards us with on screen graphics from her text messages and online media accounts. It’s a dazzling barrage that sets the tone and pace for the whole picture. Like a theme park ride, it may leave you feeling a little queasy and wanting to get off, but there’s a better chance it will have you jaw dropped and asking “What the hell is this? It’s brilliant!”

Taylor tells us that if we want to be anyone then we should definitely be at the opening night of slasher movie Cinderhella 2 on Friday. Moments later, Taylor's killed by someone dressed as the serial killer from that movie.

In a move that apes Scream, the film next introduces our heroine, Riley Jones, a 90s-obsessed social misfit who informs us of herself: “Every morning I try to remember that I'm only the second biggest loser to walk Grizzly Lake High. First place goes to the drunk slut who screwed the dead mascot in 1992. But the 90s are history, and so am I”.

Actress Shanley Caswell, who plays Riley, isn’t a recognisable face unless you can identify all those people who appear in episodes of CSI, but her performance in Detention is extremely good fun. Riley is quirky and not at all cool. She is perhaps the exact opposite of the traditional female horror movie lead. Later when she tries to convince the police that a psychopath is after her, she is greeted with a “Sure there is, honey” as if it’s a cry for attention.

So far you’d be forgiven for thinking that Detention sounds like nothing more than a routine slasher film with a few flashy effects thrown up on screen that have a good chance of giving you a headache. Bear with it though, because it’s really so much more.

Once in Grizzly Lake High, the film introduces its host of supporting characters. Dane Cook’s Principal Verge is cut in the mould of The Breakfast Club’s Mr Vernon, imparting pregnancy warnings to students in an affectionate jab at Juno. Resident Evil’s Spencer Locke is Ione Foster, the cheerleading former best friend of Riley Jones, and the reason for that is Josh Hutcherson’s Clapton Davis.

Besides having an awesome-sounding name, Clapton Davis is the loveable slacker, popular with all the stereotypical high school groups. His plan for life after high school is “starting my own music site. It’s going to list new releases and review albums from bands that nobody's heard of except for me, and if they have, I'll just dismiss them with scathing comparisons to avant-garde folk rockers. Everything's great on an ultra precise one hundred point scale and there's no place for feedback. If readers want to bitch about it they'll have to go on their twitters. Good taste is not a democracy”.

There’s more than a dash of Scott Pilgrim in Josh Hutcherson’s performance of Davis, and you imagine, quite a bit of Hutcherson himself. Josh is listed as one of the film’s executive producers, so it’d be sensible to conclude that Clapton was a role he really wanted to play.

Detention moves along with a pace and plot that becomes head spinningly elaborate, but always with tongue placed firmly in its cheek and a pop culture reference up its sleeve. Anyone who grew up in the 90s is going to get a huge kick out of the volume of 90s homages and references. Along the way, there are nods to, or mentions of, Under Siege, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves and The Matrix.

In a great moment, Riley turns up at a fancy dress party as a character formerly portrayed on television by Claire Danes, though no one knows who she’s supposed to be. There is even a Hanson dance sequence, while Clapton has the great line “Did you know more kids were conceived to Oasis than any other Beatles cover band?". We’ve seen countless movies pay tribute to the 1980s, but Detention seems like one of the first to really celebrate the 90s in its writing, making it seem all the more fresh and clever.

The 80s get a look in, too, with tributes to The Karate Kid, Back To The Future, Ferris Bueller and Roadhouse, amongst others. The film even answers the long debated question as to who would win in a fight: Patrick Swayze or Steven Seagal? It’s mullet versus ponytail.

For all its nostalgia overload though, Detention is a film firmly routed in the 21st century, with Twitter, Facebook and downloading all present in one form or another. Riley’s unfortunate wardrobe malfunction at the fancy dress party is soon plastered all over the internet leading Principal Verge to question her on just how she has come to be involved in what he calls “snuff porn”.

When the characters eventually find themselves in the titular detention, the film takes what appears to be another tribute to the Scream franchise, and the idea of a movie within a movie as they download Cinderhella 3 to a phone in a bid to find out just how they might all die. It’s The Breakfast Club updated for the teenies (or whatever this current decade is going to be called).

To divulge anything further about the happenings in Detention would be to spoil the fun. Though the film doesn’t carry with it the “avoid spoilers at all costs” value that The Cabin In The Woods did, you'll get more out of it if you just let its bizarre world unfold in front of you.

Joseph Khan has employed his talent for directing pop promos with his vibrant and witty script to make something that feels incredibly fresh. You feel that every single line has been written with care, and that the film is a labour of love by someone making exactly the film they wanted to make. Unfortunately, it’s been below many people's radars so far, but Detention fully deserves to become a cult classic on DVD.

Word of mouth on the film seems to be that if you get it, you love it. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground, but even if it doesn’t sound like the kind of film for you, then you should watch it anyway, just for the wild experience it provides.

Detention is the best 2012 film you may have missed. As the film concludes, the words “You have been watching Detention” slam up on the screen, and it's likely your reaction will be, “Hell yeah, I have. And I can’t wait to watch it again!”

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