Detention (2011)

Imagine if, in the early 1980s, nascent film directors John Hughes and Wes Craven met up with venerable science fiction author Ray Bradbury at a Northern California artist’s retreat. There, between the backdrop of the Santa Cruz mountains and the turbulent Pacific Ocean, perhaps over a fine Merlot and maybe some clandestine psychotropic herbs, the three artists put their heads together to lay the foundations of a project. The three iconic and influential artists brought their unique visions to their venture: Hughes’ heartwarming, teenage dramedies joined with Craven’s dark and twisted horrors, under Bradbury’s sci-fi-tinged messages of hope and perseverance packaged in one encompassing work. Consequently, decades later, writer and director Joseph Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo channeled this imaginary work by three titans of 20th-century art and popular culture by making their own coming-of-age, slasher, time-travel flick with 2011’s wildly chaotic, mirthful romp Detention.

Exploring themes of teenage angst, existential dread, the plastic reality of adolescence, and the painful search for identity while dodging a killer’s ax is a lot of ground to cover over a 93-minute runtime. Yet Detention serves them up with a keen visual style and enthusiasm. To summarize the plot, Grizzly Lake High School students are being killed by a copycat Cinderhella. Cinderhella is the killer in a popular series of films about a prurient, mad killer who wears a prom dress and crown and kills teenagers. Following the murders of the school’s popular female student and the school’s quarterback, the school principal assigns senior Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) and her classmates an all-day Saturday detention.

Detention (2011)
Breakfast Club, Class of 2012 from l to r Gord, Sander, Mimi, Clapton, Toshiba, Toby T.,Riley, and Ione/Sloane

Soon, this Breakfast Club-style gathering plunges down a rabbit hole of time travel, pirated high school slasher movies, parent-child body switches, uncharacteristically aggressive Canadian exchange students, and alien invaders. As the killer picks them off, the students try to unlock the space-time wormhole that links the present with 1992, the coolest year ever, and save the world from destruction. Who can do all this without inadvertently triggering the Bradbury Butterfly Effect, swinging everyone’s lives in unpredictable directions?

The movie starts with a creative, three-minute opening credits and character roll call montage, which comes after two pre-credit scenes. The opening credits are set to a catchy song that introduces the main characters and their roles in the movie, providing a bit of backstory for the characters and setting up the conflicts to come. Besides Riley, Detention’s major and minor characters are: Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson), Riley’s crush; Ione (Spencer Locke), her ex-best friend and Clapton’s current girlfriend; beta-male Sander Sanderson (A.D. Johnson), who pines for Riley; Billy Nolan (Parker Bailey), head quarterback of the football team, Ione’s jilted ex-boyfriend, and a half-alien-fly hybrid; Mimi, the black goth girl; Toshiba, a quantum physics genius; and Principal Verge, a Class of 1992 alum and seething ball of bitter rage, are marked present.

Detention, 2011

 

Riley is the linchpin of this chaotic saga. Hobbled by a broken ankle and smarting from Ione’s betrayal, she begins her day telling the audience that “life sucks”. Things only got worse from there. Once at school, her classmates, teachers, and school administrators treated her with disdain. The students make fun of her crush on Clapton, the teachers don’t seem to care, and the school administrators do nothing to help. She attempts to hang herself in the school’s main hall, in front of the life-sized grizzly bear mascot. After changing her mind, Cinderhella attacks her. After escaping her attack, the police accused her of plagiarizing Wes Craven’s Scream for attention. As Cinderhella targets the other students in detention, Riley comes to realize she is the sole person to restore sanity.

Detention is a smart, genre-savvy movie that adroitly juggles the large cast and its multiple conflicts across three different timelines, mixing teen-gross-out humor with sly meta references to various movie genres. Additionally, the movie also earns bonus points for certain deep-cut, slasher historical references that pop up.

Detnetion (2011)

In conclusion, Detention moves at a fast pace. The talented, young cast is up for whatever their characters’ complex arcs call for. Shanley Caswell deserves recognition for her role as Riley. While audiences could get lost in the many, confusing liminal antics of the film, Khan and Palermos’ script takes the disparate elements and weaves them together almost seamlessly. It carefully walks the line between extremes, taking itself seriously enough to tell a good story but also having a big enough sense of humor to make the character’s journey fun for the audience. Above everything else, Detention is a great movie to watch with friends.

However, in the end, as Riley reflects on the events of the film, she leaves the audience with her final thoughts: “It’s just high school. It’s not the end of the world.”

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