by A.J. Hakari
Scream gets a lot of flack for wearing its satire on its sleeve. True, it had its share of references and observations awkwardly shoehorned into the dialogue, but it still felt like a consistent and complete film that tried to tie everything together into an actual plot. Broad or wry, parodies with a horror bent work better when you’re interested in what’s happening, as The Cabin in the Woods demonstrated pretty damn well a few months back. Otherwise, you’re left with something like Detention, an obnoxious, ADD-afflicted wreck with more concern for maintaining the apperance of being hip and unconventional than for possessing any actual thematic value.
Welcome to Grizzly Lake, home to every stock character horror cinema has ever urped up. Jocks, mean girls, hipsters, and many more roam the streets, although the population has recently begun to dwindle. Someone’s decided to don the get-up of the villainess from B-grade slasher flick Cinderhella and axe his way through the high schoolers, one stereotype at a time. With any one of their classmates due on the chopping block next, the job of rooting out the killer falls upon walking social disaster Riley (Shanley Caswell) and charismatic slacker Clapton (Josh Hutcherson). But if the Grizzly Lake kids weren’t occupied enough by a bloodthirsty madman, the UFOs, time-traveling bears, and impending apocalypse sure oughta do the trick.
I’m not even going to bother bringing up the idea of story in Detention. I gave up all hopes of it having one the minute its characters began addressing the camera about their tropes and traits while graphics flew across the screen. But seeing as how Detention is obviously in it for the goofs (leaning more towards the “comedy” aspect of “horror comedy”), humor is fairly important to its overall success…which is why the style it opts for makes the whole damn film collapse in on itself. Maybe it’s just personal preference speaking, but satire seems to work best the more focused it is; the closer the bullseyes are hit and less crowded together they are, the better. But Detention has a stream-of-consciousness approach that takes shots at everything even remotely connected to its subject matter all at once. Sure, some marks are made, but the shock value of latching onto one target for an ironic comment before moving onto the next in a matter of seconds is as fleeting as it is freaking irritating.
To begin with, Detention doesn’t even feel like it has any other goal in mind than doing what it does. Does it turn horror movies cliches on their ears in interesting ways? No. Does it have anything funny or smart to say about high school conventions? Nuh-uh. But it does have plenty of random, time-wasting diversions with no purpose except to be random and time-wasting. Do the body-swapping subplots, mutant jocks, pop culture name-dropping, and digs at internet reviewers have anything to do with one another? Aside from them all apparently being on director/co-writer Joseph Kahn’s mind, nope. The man who gave the world Torque (which is granted its own go-nowhere reference) is simply content to let his film come ass intensely smug and proud of itself for filling the screen with so much aimless minutae.
I didn’t go in wanting to hate Detention, but it makes it so hard not to. There’s real potential here, with some of the young actors playing their parts pretty well and a surprisingly amusing performance given by Dane “I’m Vomiting a Little as I Type This” Cook. But Detention is doomed when it makes itself the center of attention instead of its points, a sort of Scream by way of “Family Guy” with a Scott Pilgrim polish that isn’t worth a fraction of either three.