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Toronto After Dark Summer Screening: ‘Detention’; or my bloody breakfast club

Toronto After Dark Summer Screening: ‘Detention’; or my bloody breakfast club


Directed by Joseph Kahn

Written by Joseph Kahn and Mark Palermo

USA, 2011

Remember that scene in A Clockwork Orange when Alex, constrained and with eyes pried open, is forced to watch nasty bits of ultra-violence underscored by Ludwig van’s 9th symphony 4th movement?

Well, replace ultra-violence with ultra-style and Beethoven with some Backstreet Boys, and you have Joseph Kahn’s horror comedy, Detention.

Although nowhere near as tortuous with the experience compared, Detention does subject the viewer to a flourish of nonstop visual stimulus and candy-coloured kinetic energy. Glossy and forever frenetic, this is an experience that, like a rollercoaster, may induce either extreme vertigo or extreme motion sickness. Or maybe even both.

The film stars Shanley Caswell as Riley Jones, a social misfit and high school pariah. Although she’s preoccupied with genocide, poverty and political corruption (but not prom), she also worries about the newly formed relationship between her ditzy best friend, Ione (Spencer Locke), and her secret crush, Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson).

But when a masked killer starts to terrorize the student body at their high school, the trio must band together to try to survive and to maybe, just maybe, save the world in the process. Or, at least, save Grizzly Lake.

To call the film disjointed is a massive understatement to say the least. Thinly plotted, Detention is basically a 90-minute trailer of some of the best sci-fi, horror, and high school films of the last two to three decades.

With loose narrative threads, the film will weave together a fairly rudimentary, yet incredibly convoluted story that never really makes sense. But with so much tongue-in-cheek, self-awareness, and a brazen disregard for continuity or logic, it’s clear that this isn’t the film’s main purpose or raison d’être.

The film is what one might call an exercise in style, and here is where it doesn’t disappoint. Filled with an abundance of movie references, jokes, songs, and fashion from that era, Detention is an ornate and flashy homage to the 1990’s.

The eye candy is constant, making this a film to be seen instead of watched. But with info-graphics and texts cluttering the screen, flamboyant cinematography, and frantic editing, Detention may feel like over stimulation for some, and a confused storytelling mess for many.

The odd thing about the film, however, is that it succeeds because and despite of its many flaws. As a story, Detention is directionless, illogical, silly, and goes by in a flash. We rarely know why people are doing what they’re doing, and neither do they, but we know they are doing it with a knowing and ironic style. It never takes itself too seriously or tries too hard, and it never strives to do anything more than to have fun. Which is to say, it’s exactly like high school.

– Justin Li

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