Music video Director Joseph Kahn first burst on the scene with Torque, a mostly misunderstood film that pointed out how ridiculous The Fast and Furious films were. Sadly this was mistaken for an attempt to jump on the F&F bandwagon by audiences and critics who seem insistent on taking things at face value and will forever be on the same shelf as Biker Boyz in your local Blockbuster. So what do you do when you’re reeling from a failure like that? Well you self finance a bizarre and brilliant film and unleash it on the unsuspecting public.
Detention is a slasher movie…no wait that’s not right it’s a comedy…no hang on it’s a time travel movie…no that’s not it either, it’s a John Hughes esque coming-of-age story, no it’s…well ok it’s all of those things, wrapped in a pop-culture heavy satire of just about everything that teenagers hold sacred.
Detention seems like it’s going to be a slasher film to begin with, albeit a different kind of slasher movie than we’re used to. A blonde teenager talks directly to the audience, in a sort of Ferris Bueller inspired monologue, except she’s utterly loathsome (This is ignoring the fact for now that Bueller is an utter sociopath). She’s then brutally dispatched by Cinderhella, a popular character in a film of the same name (Think of a very low rent version of Saw). Then we switch gears entirely, meeting our real sad sack of a lead character as she suffers embarrassment after embarrassment, but hey, at least she’s not like that girl who was photographed trying to go down on the school mascot (A giant stuffed bear…that also houses a time machine).
Detention is, without a doubt, one of the most original films I’ve seen in a long time. For a while these genre changes happen so quickly that it starts to get overwhelming, but once you jive with what the film is doing you stop thinking about it and just accept what Kahn is doing. It’s pop-culture heavy but not in that mid-90’s dated way (Try watching Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer again…or better yet don’t), in fact the film makes the point that we’re so oversaturated and so desperate for more of it that we seemingly can’t communicate without referencing something.
Kahn even works in some sympathy for his cast of kids amongst all the madness. High School is seen, almost literally, as the end of the world and for some kids it is. Any social standing is rendered moot once that bell rings for the final time. Those years pass and we either strive to cling onto who we are then or we take the hit and move on, accepting that there’s more out there. It’s easy for a film to take the route of “These silly kids, they don’t know anything”, but the film never talks down to them like that. It knows that for them it’s a deathly serious thing, even if the rest of us can’t see it. But we’ve all lived through it, and who here didn’t think that High School was the be all and end all at one time or another?
And yet the film casually sneaks up on you to remind you that it is indeed a slasher film. It seems huge and messy as it’s happening, and it’s easy to suspect that Kahn ran out of ideas so just threw whatever he wanted in there. But these things pay off, and the end manages to find a way to bring all these disparate threads together in a way that’s completely satisfying.
The world needs more films like this. So go see it. Buy it or rent it but see it and support an original voice for once.