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Detention (Joseph Kahn, 2011)


Joseph Kahnís experience as a director of Britney Spears videos lends him surprising authority as the creative mind behind Detention, a slasher flick that seems intent upon condensing everything the genre (and a few other genres) has ever offered into ninety minutes. Technically assured and lashing out with a constant stream of clever energy, Detention starts as a simple teen horror film but layers melodramatic back stories and pop culture references on top of one another until it becomes distinct from anything seen before. One girl, dispensing fashion tips early on, advises us that ďthe nineties are the new eighties,Ē and if the recent trend of horror film remakes such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street return signaled a return of the horror films of that era, this seems to draw its self-aware inspiration from 1996ís Scream (which Detention inevitably name checks). This is a slasher movie that has been targeted squarely at ADD-addled teens (characters at one point stop a face to face conversation to begin a face to face texting sessionÖ a trip to the movie theater inspires photo opportunities and audience chatter). It speaks their language and it luxuriates in their sense of irony, which is sure to turn those off who arenít tapped into contemporary youth culture. Kahnís mile a minute jokes, his dayglo color scheme and his endlessly irreverent tone conspire to make Detention a horror film that couldnít possibly inspire feelings of dread because that would require a level of forethought that is beyond its flailing hyperactivity.


While early on it seems that Detention is going to be about a bloody prom queen serial killer called Cinderhella murdering the students of Grizzly Lake High, it keeps changing its agenda. By the time its closing credits roll, it has done time as a body swap comedy, a monster movie, a time travel adventure and a romantic comedy, each with some degree of skill. Not for a moment does it slow down, providing throwaway gags in the backgrounds of every scene and begging us to pigeonhole it. This is a film that has been designed to be watched repeatedly and seems certain achieve some level of cult status. Its willingness to not only acknowledge but outright revel in its own shallowness is refreshing. Detention is not very frightening, but that scarcely matters given its other strengths. As a parody itís far funnier and far better made than any of the Scary Movie series. As genre commentary it has more to say than the overrated Cabin in the Woods. To a far greater degree than Torque it suggests that Kahn has a unique cinematic voice.



Jeremy Heilman