I don’t tend to do much research on a film prior to seeing it (y’know, spoilers and all), so, more often than not, I go into them “blind", with only the hyperbole-laden synopsis on the DVD covers as my guide. Taking the synopsis on the back cover of 2011’s Detention at face value, I expected a teen-centric comedy horror flick involving a killer who models himself after a slasher movie antagonist and preys on the students of a small town high school. And Dane Cook. The synopsis makes no mention of magnetic bears, alien abductions, time travel, body-swapping, and guys with TV sets for hands. So, um, yeah; I guess it’s safe to say my expectations for writer/director Joseph Khan’s Detention were pretty much shattered.
The film opens with a fourth-wall breaking, pop up video style introduction to Taylor Fisher; a self-obsessed card carrying B.I.T.C.H., and pop-culture bellwether currently infatuated with a Jigsaw-style slasher icon named Cinderhella. As Taylor gleefully tells us about the upcoming premiere of Cinderhella 2, she’s violently murdered by someone dressed as her horror idol. A similar introduction is then given to popular girl Taylor’s polar opposite, Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell); a vintage-clothes-and-Doc-Marten-boots-wearing vegan poster child for misguided grunge era principles. Riley is also attacked by the Cinderhella wannabe, but, due to her lower-tier status, everyone (including the police) discounts her claims as little more than cries for attention.
As if being stalked by a killer wasn’t bad enough, Riley’s former best friend, Ione (Spencer Locke) has started dating Grizzly Falls High School’s resident skate rat, Clapton Davis (Josh Hutchershon), despite knowing full well that Riley’s in love with him. Clapton is pretty much oblivious to Riley’s problems as he has problems of his own, including dodging the fists of Ione’s steroid-fueled ex, Billy Nolan (Parker Bagley), and staying well under the radar of bitter school principal Verge (Dane Cook). In the tradition of all good slasher films, red herrings are in abundance, including the chronically negative, Sander Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson); the tech genius, Toshiba (Jonathan Park); and the “strange, unknown black guy”, Toby T. (Marque Richardson), amongst many others. All the pieces are put in play for the typical stalk-and-kill teen horror flick, but that’s when things start getting downright weird and elements like the aforementioned time travel, body-swapping, alien abductions, and TV hand guy come into play. From here on out, Detention plays like a cross between The Breakfast Club, Donnie Darko, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It’s an absolute hoot, and it is whip smart stuff to boot, with Khan expertly guiding his characters through an intentionally convoluted third act full of mind-boggling temporal hijinks. I had an enormous amount of fun watching how our heroes’ actions in 1992 impacted their future/current lives (as well as neatly wrapping up some of the bits from the first two acts, making the comedic payoffs that much more rewarding).
I really enjoyed Detention. As a matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s not only one of the most welcome surprises this year, but a shoe-in for cult status. It’s such an unpredictable and energetic little film; one that manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, exceptionally gory, and even a little heartwarming! The cast is uniformly excellent (yes, even Dane Cook), the direction by Khan is exhilarating, and the cinematography by Christopher Probst is just plain cookies for the eyes. It's commanded my attention from its inspired opening credits sequence to its bizarre and bloody conclusion, and generated much joyful conversation after it was over. I like when that happens.
If I had to pick a nit with the film, it would be with the (intentionally) self-aware screenplay which, while exceptionally witty and very imaginative, occasionally meanders into Kevin Smith-style overly-verbose territory, with myriad pop culture references that'll have the tweens drawn in by the presence of The Hunger Games Hutcherson scratching their domes, as well as a healthy amount of curiously dated slang (do people still say “hoobastank?”). I wasn’t put off by it, but I can see how other viewers might be, so I’m just putting it out there. Also, I do have to point out that one of the characters spouts nothing but dated slang and pop-culture references, but they’re integral to the plot, and, when the reveal comes, it all makes perfect sense.
Detention is a great looking film, with a vibrant, somewhat ethereal aesthetic that looks absolutely dynamite on Blu-ray. Sony’s 1080p presentation is near-flawless, with a sharp, well-defined image that is brimming with color and fine detail. The film features several title card pop-ups throughout, many of which “hover” over the action, and the sharpness and sense of depth lends them a three dimensional quality that’s quite impressive! The film’s accompanying 5.1 DTS HD MA soundtrack (featuring a great assortment of past and present indie rock faves) offers robust bass, crystalline highs, and crisp and clean dialogue. The mix makes great use of the rear and satellite speakers, filling the soundfield with expertly implemented directional effects, and immersive atmospherics.
Extras include a pop-up style commentary/featurette hybrid billed as a “Cheat Mode” in which principal cast members and the Khan chime in with behind-the-scenes snippets, anecdotes, and comments on the onscreen action. It’s not an interactive feature like Warner’s Maximum Movie Mode, but it’s still quite entertaining, and suitably offbeat. We also get a couple of short featurettes (including a very funny montage of Dane Cook spitballing his lines), screen tests, and a collection of trailers for other Sony releases.