Detention (2011)

First published by LWLies

“Life moves pretty fast,” as cinematic high schooler Ferris Bueller once memorably observed, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.”

That, however, was way back in 1986, before the Internet, before texting, before Generation Z. So while Detention may include its own Ferris (in the form of Josh Hutcherson’s Clapton Davis), while it may nibble on the bones of John Hughes’ other teen movies (amongst other things), and while it may share Hughes’ preoccupations with time and the fleeting nature of youth, here life moves so fast that there is simply no opportunity to focus at length on all or any of its myriad details. In a film that throws out high concepts, scattergun allusions, curveball subplots and other (sub)cultural detritus at a relentless speed, multiple viewings are both demanded and amply rewarded.


The breakneck pace is part of the film’s point. In a dizzyingly kinetic prologue, popular school ‘bitch’ (her word) Taylor Fisher (Alison Wood) declares to camera, “Indie rock trends do move fast. Today my clock is set to the Drunges, but by the time you actually watch this, they’ll be headlining a toilet in Toledo – with mops!” She then screams at her mother that she has been on a no-bread diet “since now!”, before suggesting, “Let’s montage this, to speed things up” (director Joseph Kahn duly obliges). Her last spoken words, before she has her throat slit by a masked killer, are a jaded, “Stalkers are so 2011”, as if even trends from the very year in which Detention premiered are already, inevitably passé.

So Detention hilariously dissects a new class of teenagers left to sink or swim in a world of rapidly shifting reference points and values, where they must piece together their identity from an infinity of retro-cultural models and obscure Wiki data no further away than a mouse click, and yet still struggle, like all teens before them, to fit in, find themselves (and the guy or girl of their dreams), and get an A – if not save the world. And while there is no genre that the angst and ecstasy of adolescent growing pains cannot inhabit, part of the genius of Detention is to mash up all these different genres into a postmodern, protean plot that simply defies summary.

Suffice it to say that there is the dark comic satire (and suicidal tendencies) of Heathers, the bloody body count (and self-referentiality) of a post-Scream, post-Saw slasher, the Saturday group detention of The Breakfast Club, the intergenerational body swapping of Freaky Friday, the apocalyptic prescience of Donnie Darko, the time-travel paradoxology of Back to the Future, as well as sidesteps involving a grizzly bear abducted by aliens and a school bully transforming into The Fly (complete with wings and acidic vomit). That all of these seemingly irreconcilable elements are made to come together in the end into a satisfyingly coherent whole is a miracle that has to be seen (and heard) to be believed (and that results from a screenplay lovingly crafted over three years by Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo).

Kahn’s self-financed indie is a playful bubblegum pastiche, full of razorsharp one-liners, pop-culture parodies, bizarre digressions and flagrant breaches of the fourth wall, all tinged with a voguish nostalgia – for 1992! – because, as one character so absurdly puts it, “the Nineties are the new Eighties.” With every second of the film seeming to contain as many ideas as frames, this is one of the most hyperactive, desultorily attention-exhausting films ever made. Its smart appeal extends far beyond the usual, often narrow expectations of the horror set, while its very topicality serves, ironically (or even post-ironically), to future-proof its classic status. For while by the time you have finished reading this, Detention‘s day will already long be over, its very obsolescence is in fact its subject matter, as well as an implicit thesis that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Whatever you do, don’t miss it.

Anton Bitel