A group of high schoolers are put in detention when they all become suspects for the serial murders being committed against their classmates.
Joseph Kahn, 2011
I don’t want to give away too much about this movie, because half the fun of it is being bamboozled by the next weird revelation the movie throws at you. Suffice it to say that the main plot follows teen reject Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) as she navigates the pain of attending Grizzly Lake High School. She’s routinely ignored, walked all over (literally), and treated poorly by almost the entire student body, while fending off the unwanted advances of Sander Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson). When she starts to feel suicidal, however, she becomes the target of the new town slasher, a serial killer modeled after the title character in the popular Cinderhella films. She turns to her old friend-turned-enemy Ione (Spencer Locke) and old friend-turned-crush Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson, who also receives an executive producer credit) for help. Soon, they are sent to the library with a selection of outcasts by principal Dane Cook to figure out which of them is the killer.
Two and a half minutes into this movie, I was texting the friend who told me to watch it asking what the fuck was going on. He texted me back to tell me it was going to get weirder. He wasn’t wrong. Detention is a movie that will give you tonal whiplash in the first five minutes. There’s a whole lot of stuff in here, lurching genres from teen comedy to slasher to scifi with no warning. It’s actually structurally pretty consistent, which is necessary when the plot is dropping non-sequiturs on you left, right, and centre. Slathered on top of the bonkers plot there’s a loud soundtrack and rapid fire editing to keep you off-balance the whole time. The characters are a weird assortment of hipsters, archetypes, and oddballs. The characters are oddly obsessed with the 90s (I know there are a lot of 90s influences on fashion these days, and it’s all explained away by a line claiming the “90s are the new 80s”, but it’s still pretty excessive).
The performances are a mixed bag, too. Josh Hutcherson makes his Bart Simpson-esque cool kid oddly likeable, and Spencer Locke has fun as the pretty, popular girl with a secret, but Shanley Caswell’s lead girl is refreshing for about ten minutes before her performance comes off as one-note and flat. Some of the jokes work, some don’t, although I have to admit that within those first two and a half minutes I knew I wouldn’t be switching off. There’s a nastiness about the teenagers that I think is off – you should really have more sympathy for your central characters, and the portrayal of high school is pretty mean-spirited – but there are genuine moments of fun and surprise. I’d say Joseph Kahn shows promise, but apparently he also directed Torque, so who knows? Certainly if he can find a little more emotion and affection in the chaos and throw out the worse ideas while sticking with the better ones, he could turn something like Detention into a cult classic.