***Joseph Kahn‘s self-financed Detention never got a theatrical release in the UK, and had an extremely limited run in theatres in its native US. With this in mind, it’s clear that the distributors acquired the movie with one eye on the DVD market, which makes it somewhat fitting that I finally caught up with it on that scion of the physical media formats: DVD.***
Detention is a film for teenagers. It’s so specifically aimed at teenagers that, with its constant quick-cutting, ADD cultural references to YouTube, text messages, Slasher Flicks and John Hughes, it could only be more ‘teen’ if it was composed entirely of text speak. Preferably in 140 characters or less.
It’s got a plot, but since that doesn’t even begin to encapsulate the film, it’s barely worth outlining… don’t worry, I will anyway. Essentially, a movie-inspired serial killer called Cinderhella is stalking the halls of a high school populated by the kind of pop-culture savvy, wise cracking, clique-defining kids that could only exist in this kind of film. It culminates in a Saturday detention organised by the Principle, unintentionally trapping them with their own hunter… Plot-wise… that’s about it. Since so much of the running time is taken up with trying to reach ‘the kids’ with their cultural touchstones, the story is, at best, secondary.
The film stars Josh Hutcherson, flush from his recent mainstream attention-garnering role in The Hunger Games (despite a lengthy filmography before that), and he also produces it. Hutcherson and his up-and-coming cohorts throw themselves enthusiastically into their various smartass roles. Joseph Kahn, the director and co-writer, is best known as a prodigiously successful music video director. His quick-cutting, bubblegum, MTV-friendly style is perfectly showcased in, and suited to, this film. His only prior full-length effort, 2004’s Torque, was an action film best described as The Fast and the Furious but more over the top (yes, that’s possible!).
The Teen Tenner is an elusive beast to ensnare (often quality is not deciding factor in a film’s success), but when a film so sets its stall out to court that most fickle of demographics that its ratio of pop culture reference to actual character-building, story-defining content is at least 5:1, you know they’re playing a high-stakes game…
And you know what? It sort of works.
The constant quick-cutting editing, the bombardment of music cues, the bright colours, fourth-wall demolishing dialogue and heightened acting could well attract the kind of teen who spends hours watching MTV whilst using Facebook on their iPhones. It’s hard to get bored watching this film, even if it is hard to actually feel anything. When a character refers to another as “more concept than reality”, you know that this tightrope will be a hard one to walk, but there are laughs in there, and real ingenuity in the visual effects. The self-consciousness of the dialogue mirrors that of the most insecure and image-cognisant teen, and, while entertaining, makes it hard to believe them as real people, even within this hyper-reality.
Detention is trying something different. It’s smarter than Not Another Teen Movie. But by virtue of the fact that it’s written and made by adult men, it also comes across like an ageing hippy guidance counsellor type trying to relate to the kids on their own level by talking about Twitter and Justin Bieber. Ultimately, characters who are believable and relatable, rather than trendily postmodern, and story lines that are coherent and engrossing, as opposed to inconsequential and disposable, will always resonate better with people on the whole. As interesting and unique as Detention is, even its much-maligned target demographic likes to feel something once in a while when watching a film.
A mess, but a unique and audacious one.