Detained (2024)

Felipe Mucci’s Detained opens at the scene of a bloodbath. Lying on the floor and momentarily illuminated by the torch of investigating Agent Lerner (Bernardo De Paula), a still smouldering sign indicates that this darkened building is – or at least has once been – the Gaithersburg Police Department, but now it is just a burnt-out shell, full of forensics teams and charred corpses. One of the victims evidently managed to scrawl the letters ‘JO’ on the wall in their own blood before dying. ‘Jovan’, says Lerner, in an act of recognition that shows him living up to his own surname – yet even if he has not yet fully learnt what has happened here, and perhaps never will, we, cast in medias res, are even further behind.

After this brief prologue that is also a glimpse into the future, Rebecca Kamen (Abbie Cornish), whose surname is expressly, perhaps tellingly pronounced like ‘caiman’, wakes up some hours earlier in the interrogation room of that same Police Department (whose sign is at this point still on the wall, as yet unburned). Bruised, woozy, and with no memory of how she got there or why, she will be interviewed respectively by Detectives Moon (Moon Bloodgood) and Avery (Laz Alonso), will be put in a holding pen with ‘harmless’ junkie Sully (Silas Weir Mitchell) and ‘scared rich girl’ Jess (Josefine Lindegaard), will see Robert Audrey (John Patrick Amerdori), whom she had picked up in a bar a few hours earlier, now being interviewed, and will receive a warning from her only local friend Sarah James (Breeda Wool) who has also been called in for an interview. In the frame for a serious crime, Rebecca is in trouble – even Isaac Barsi (Justin H. Min), sent in as a replacement for her vacationing lawyer, looks worried. And when the name Jovan comes up, everyone gets nervous.


Rebecca’s amnesia serves, at least initially, to place the viewer on an equal footing with her, as we similarly try to take in all that is going on and work out what went before (not unlike Lerner in the opening sequence). In a dilapidated cop shop that is visibly undergoing refurbishment, the narrative too requires reconstruction, before veering off in all manner of unpredictable directions, with only the ending assured (if still not quite understood). We know from early on that at least one person is manipulating events, even as a Keyser Söze figure is bandied about to confuse the scent and terrify the natives. “No one lives to tell the story,” Rebecca will say at one point, explicitly suggesting that everyone in the building will be picked off “one by one” – while another character insists that Jovan is ‘fictional’.  

As often happens with films that shift their own paradigm, even their own genre, the first big twist here is genuinely disorienting, but thereafter viewers may well feel that, unlike before, they are now ahead of the game and have a better idea than most of the characters of what is really going on. Still, knowing roughly where things are headed does not equate to knowing why – and the latter comes as a real surprise. Along the way there is real fun to be had here in trying to determine where in all this ensemble chaos the various plans of the characters end and their improvisations begin – even if all this apparent narrative looseness is, paradoxically, a sign of just how tightly Mucci and Jeremy Palmer’s screenplay has been scripted. The near Aristotelian unity of time and place helps amp up the tension, as this film, like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and its remake (2005), or Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s The Void (2016), or Anthony DiBlasi’s Last Shift (2014) and its remake (2023), or Stewart Sparke’s How To Kill Monsters (2023), stays in its police department location all night long.

The masquerade in Detained is deeply metacinematic, as all the cast are required to play players in sets that really are sets (full of both cameras and props), so that it is hard to tell reality from sham, or where the truth lies. By the end, of course, everything has fallen into place and become clear, but it is the motive, so contradictory and counterintuitive, underlying this scenario which anchors the sole survivor – and part perpetrator – of the massacre to an impulse that is, amid all this monstrous sociopathy, unexpectedly human. The messy morality behind that, and where it might lead further down the road, is what the viewer is left interrogating.

strap: Felipe Mucci finds genre-bending, morality-inverting, metacinematic twists in a police interrogation

© Anton Bitel