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'Detention' Movie Review

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


'Detention' movie poster.
© Detention Films
Receiving a much more limited release on the same day as the more celebrated horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods, Detention has been relegated to footnote status amongst all but the most ardent horror filmgoers. This is a shame, because, as great as Cabin is, Detention is every bit as funny, smart and inventive. Plus, it's got a time-traveling bear.

The Plot

Frumpy tomboy Riley (Shanley Caswell) is a nobody within the teen hierarchy of Grizzly Lake High School, so marginalized that when she falls on the floor of a busy hallway, the students simply step over her prone, unmoving body. And half of them think she's a dude. Her former best friend Ione (Spencer Locke) has recently vaulted up the social ladder by morphing into a prissy, self-absorbed cheerleader and has begun dating Riley's not-so-secret crush, Clapton (Josh Hutcherson). It's enough to make Riley kill herself. She fails.

However, someone else is willing to help her meet her maker. A serial killer dressed as the psycho prom queen from the slasher series Cinderhella is stalking Grizzly Lake students and has targeted Riley for the next victim. When she, Ione and Clapton end up in detention with a handful of misfits, they begin to suspect that one of them is the killer. If they can solve the mystery in time, they can save not only the life of another student, but thanks to the inconvenient monkey wrench of a time machine, perhaps they can save the world. Or at least, Grizzly Lake.

The End Result

L-R: Aaron David Johnson, Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke and Josh Hutcherson in 'Detention'.

L-R: Aaron David Johnson, Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke and Josh Hutcherson in 'Detention'.

© Detention Films
Detention is as endearingly quirky and unorthodox a horror movie as you'll ever see -- in part because it's not strictly a horror movie, but rather more of the horror-comedy-sci fi-romance multihyphenate variety. It's Scream meets Juno meets The Breakfast Club meets Donnie Darko meets Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, gleefully operating in a cartoonishly cinematic world where the absurd is commonplace, from psycho killers and alien invasions to mutants and time travel.

The dialogue is of the Diablo Cody variety -- hip, rapid fire and full of pop culture allusions (with an affinity for '90s nostalgia, because apparently, the '90s are the new '80s) -- meaning it could grate on some viewers' nerves or fly over the heads of those unfamiliar with '90s cinematic wonders like Fled and Volcano. The direction from Joseph Kahn (whose only previous feature film was the awful 2004 Ice Cube biker movie Torque, which Kahn himself readily disses in Detention) is similarly hyperactive, utilizing his extensive music video experience to create visuals that are energetic, inventive, colorful (literally -- like DayGlo colorful) and fun.

As impressive as his direction is, Kahn's writing is just as fresh, with jokes that are densely packed and original, rarely going where you imagine the setup will lead. It's almost exhausting at times as the script jumps from one wacky tangent to another, but Kahn remarkably manages to maintain a consistent level of hilarity throughout. Along the way, he skewers teen culture, modern technology, bad movies and pretty much any notion of conventional storytelling. It's cinema for the texting, YouTubing ADD generation, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it's not smart in its self-awareness.

The Skinny

  • Acting: A- (Though not full of household names, the cast excels playing to its comedic strengths...even Dane Cook.)
  • Direction: A (Creative, colorful and full of energy.)
  • Script: A (Hip, hectic and refreshingly unconventional, consistently delivering laughs at a breakneck pace.)
  • Gore/Effects: B+ (A healthy blend of real-world makeup effects and CGI, making the most of a limited budget.)
  • Overall: A (An energetic, wonderfully absurdist blast of creativity to shake up the horror landscape.)

Detention is directed by Joseph Kahn and is rated R by the MPAA for bloody violence, crude and sexual content, nudity, language, some teen drinking and drug use. Release date: April 13, 2012.

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