Starring Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell, and Spencer Locke
Directed by Joseph Kahn
Joseph Kahn’s Detention was in distribution hell, but it’s better late than never. It begins with a smaller space – the bedroom of a popular high school cheerleader, emanating the pastel aesthetic of contemporary adolescent suburbia. That might sound sunny to you but she introduces herself as a BITCH and lives up to that name. After behaving in a matter that will make adults neuter and spay themselves for future reference, she talks to the audience, enumerating a list of whatever, we’re reminded that this is a horror comedy and she gets murdered by a slasher called Cinderhella.
The next scene takes place within the bedroom of a girl named Riley, our protagonist who, despite being passably pretty, thinks she’s the second biggest loser in her high school. She reluctantly comes to campus, its population including the self-made cool kid Clapton Davis (pre-Peeta Josh Hutcherson), the heir apparent to teen popularity Ione and her band of cheerleaders, the jock Billy, the class clown and other high school archetypes. The day culminates into a fight between Clapton and Billy that gets broken up before it even gets started, as police tell the student body what we already knew from the first scene. The precarious death of a girl that no one liked is in the back of the minds of these teens who already have their fair share of problems.
The movie radiates with energy but lags during the last few scenes depicting the actual detention itself, where the major characters and other selected teens obligatorily have to find out who Cinderhella is. It labours by putting movies within this movie, subgenre after subgenre and flashbacks within flashbacks. Not every character needs a back story although I get Kahn’s point and it’s a smart one indeed. I already discussed archetypes but it deconstructs them, making the audience realize that just like high schoolers in real life, these characters have grown up together but are inadvertently getting ripped apart. The flashbacks show how hearts are broken, how friendships are severed and explain why people who hate each other still want to hang out with each other, a masochistic trait that people in real life carry a few years after high school. These characters share a bond, and speak their own language.
They also share each other’s pain. Despite the occasional name calling in which the characters participate, this movie is the kind of comedy that has collective sadness dominating its most fascinatingly memorable scene. But make no mistake, the fourth wall breaking pop cultural references – Kardashians! – are still funny. The mix of tragic alone time and comic rapport isn’t from someone pretending to be myopically stuck in adolescence. Instead, it’s written by a disgusting, foul mouthed yet compassionate adult. He puts the distance between himself and adolescence and actually gets the latter’s essence, using a cartoony aesthetic that might just be more confidently laid out than its predecessors.
Oh, and need I remind you that despite or because it co-stars Dane Cook as the school’s curmudgeonly principal, this movie might still end up on my year end top-10 list.