Summing up the plot of Detention makes me feel like a chimpanzee trying to comprehend quantum physics. Essentially, the story seems standard. Riley is the smart but uncool girl with a crush on her best friend Clapton. But Clapton is a hipster with the hots for uber-cheerleader Ione, Riley’s former bestie. Meanwhile Riley’s current best bud Sander, a wisecracking geeky virgin, desires Riley. A masked maniac is stalking the students dressed as the lead character from a series of lame horror films (no not those ones) and fixates on Riley. The principle suspects them all as potential teen killers and throws them into detention. Stuck in the school library, will the gang manage to reveal the identity of the killer?
This is just a vague framework for director Joseph Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo to cram full of pop culture references (laid on so thick it takes at least three viewings to catch maybe half of them), before morphing the film into a science fiction direction that is migraine inducing if you try to think about it. My advice, just go with it. What you need to know is that this is the ultimate meta high school/slasher/sci-fi teen movie. A glow stick waving, MDMA chugging cousin to the too cool for school goth kid Donnie Darko who graduated and went to college where he fell in with a bad crowd and turned in to Southland Tales.
Khan is a jobbing pop promo and advertising director who made his feature debut with the much derided motorcycle action flick Torque in 2004 (he takes a pop at his earlier film in Detention) and then found getting a second film made on his own terms a struggle. So he decided to take his pop promo riches and finance Detention himself (no doubt calling in some favours to lessen the truly frightening to contemplate music rights clearances required for a film with wall to wall pop music references woven throughout). The resulting film may have left him broke, but if there is any justice it should guarantee another gig.
Shot digitally by DP Christopher Probst, Detention is a gorgeous film. The opening credits sequence alone is a finely-crafted thing of beauty, with the camera whipping around and finding the credits woven into the film’s set dressing. Kahn is at least as fond of lense flare as JJ Abrams, each frame blooms with the stuff like desert blossom after a heavy rainfall. The young cast – including Hutcherson, now best known for The Hunger Games – perform admirably with dialogue that is as full of hip teen jargon as Heathers was in the late eighties .
Where Kahn really scores is in his use of on screen texting, and social media, which woven into the very DNA of the film. Texts appear onscreen (not unlike the technique used in TVs Sherlock), characters often converse whilst holding digital conversations simultaneously. There really is so much information on screen at any one time that the only way to deal with it is to let it wash over you, and go back and unpick it on repeat viewings. It could make you feel very old. Due to the time and effort it takes to complete a film and bring it out to the wider world, film often feels just behind the cultural zeitgeist, but Kahn’s film (to paraphrase rock bank Against Me) feels like the crest of a new wave.
Detention is a dazzling meta meta movie that manages to feel post everything. It’s frankly criminal that the dismal Scream 4 was allowed to dribble out across a wide theatrical release when this incredible movie was locked away in a dungeon and shoved out on DVD.
EXTRAS ★ Just a making-of featurette. • Review courtesy of Chris & Phil Present