After birthing the critical mess that was 2004’s Torque, director Joseph Kahn decided to take a few years off and focus back on his music video directing career. Working with such artists as Muse, Eminem, Britney Spears, and the Wu-Tang Clan, many wondered if Kahn would ever rebound from Hollywood’s harsh backlash.
Fast forward to 2011, and Kahn exposed a self funded ace from his sleeve titled Detention. Taking the festival circuit by storm, Kahn’s energetic filmmaking started garnering audience awards and critical acclaim from those lucky enough to snag a ticket, and for good reason. Learning from the over developed B-Movie mistakes that plagued Torque, Joseph Kahn’s entry into horror comedy territory will this time be remembered for cheers, not jeers.
Let me try to describe Detention this way. Imagine if Scream had a baby with The Breakfast Club, that toddler grew up and mated with A Clockwork Orange, and little The Screamwork Club produced a bundle of joy with Juno. That crazy, super hyper, monstrously intelligent, ADD ridden spawn laced with multiple genre influences would eventually mature to be our film Detention, with proud father Joseph nurturing his unique brainchild to full strength.
Right off the bat, Kahn’s logic defying film is absolutely not for everyone. His screenplay, written with Mark Palermo, is a non stop piece of art that never actually lets the audience breathe, jumping from genre to genre like a small indecisive child running aisle to aisle in FAO Schwarz. Some viewers will also find Kahn’s love/hate 90’s comedy totally lost on themselves, watching the director bash hipsters and fads to death with an oversized irony hammer.
If you can’t keep up with each lighting fast quip or silly pop culture reference, kindly see the above picture for our director’s response. There’s no doubt Detention was made with the social media generation in mind, and Kahn doesn’t really care if you’re not on board.
Don’t be turned off by Kahn’s satirical take on teen angst and high school drama though, even if you find yourself outside the tech generation of today. Detention still has enough polished oddities to win over anyone with an open mind and a hunger for cutting edge cinema. One can simply marvel at how our director effortlessly pulls off tonal 180’s, or creates such indulgently fun scenarios, but does so with grace and beauty while simultaneously throwing massive amounts of dense script material directly in our face. Both challenging and rewarding, Kahn’s sophomore feature oozes unfiltered creativity films like Jennifer’s Body tried so hard to emulate, given the whole horrific high school experience scenario.
Most impressive is the usage of self-aware filmmaking, opening a hidden door of silly gags and playful interactions. Detention can exploit its own ludicrous story for even more personalized laughs, for example having a character look down at screen text and react to the inevitable outcome. Kahn ingeniously pokes enough fun at his own movie as a smack to the audience’s head, almost as to say “Hey, this is supposed to be fun and not serious! Just embrace it!” I know I perked right up, enabling the correct mindset for optimal viewing.
Let’s not give all the kudos to one man though, because it takes numerous collaborating talents to create something worthwhile. A pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson appears as the charming slacker Clapton Davis, dreaming of hitting the big time by running website for independent music reviews. No direction or focus, Clapton represents the fun-loving socialite who coasted through high school without a care in the world. Sure, his character arc is nothing new, but Hutcherson grants us a fun and charismatic role. What more can you ask for out of a leading character?
Shanley Caswell makes her silver screen debut as our dorky protagonist Riley, struggling to make it through each day without too many embarrassing incidents. Frankly, Kahn asks a lot from her and Riley is a challenging role to portray for your first featured go around, but Caswell wears the character’s shame with flying colors. She also connects with Hutcherson’s character instantaneously, possessing magnetic on-screen chemistry which make the duo a lovable watch.
As for the rest of our cast, numerous hilarious dynamics continue to play out between different characters, but revealing too much will spoil a bevy of surprises and insta-classic jokes. You can tell what stereotypes Kahn chooses to include given each teen’s appearance displayed in the above picture, delving back into more relatable character personas.
If you can make me like Dane Cook though, then your film has done something tremendously right. Playing super-strict fun squasher Principal Verge, Kahn uses Cook’s sarcastic tone and does the easiest thing possible with the character – makes you hate him. A perfect use of very unstable talent, but Kahn’s surprise choice proves fruitful yet again.
Plus, any director that works in a Daniel Negreanu cameo is aces in my book. Pun intended.
Detention was a uber-frenetic cerebral assault of melded ideas once thought impossible to combine. Leave it to the guy who made Torque to prove me wrong, making the most of his time away from overly stuck up critics and internet haters. Whether Torque was that bad or just easy enough to belittle is another argument, but his latest film is spectacular enough to make us forget 2004’s “high-octane” disaster. The magic Kahn has created can’t be discussed without ruining pretty much everything, so you’ll have to trust my words. Detention is unlike any teen slasher you’ve ever seen, or quite possibly will see, and a shining example that fresh ideas and off the wall filmmaking are still a possibility in today’s world.
Alas, I can already see bloggers mounting their hate filled offenses. “Joseph Kahn’s hybrid is a nauseating ride which can’t pick a genre, pulling off none successfully!” “Detention prides itself on flat social wit and overused 90’s clichés!” “Too many plot points! Not enough scares! Not enough comedy! Too random!”
If you segment Kahn’s film as such, you’ll find plenty to nit-pick just like any other multi-layered film. As a whole, just try appreciating the extraordinary reach Kahn attempts to pull off (and does in my opinion). Wouldn’t you rather be challenged by a film than just sit through another drab slasher churned out for a quick buck?
Joseph Kahn deserves a sparkly gold star for his twisted trip back to high school, a fridge worthy achievement for any director.
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Detention is unlike any teen slasher you've ever seen, or quite possibly will see. It's proof that fresh ideas and off the wall filmmaking are still a possibility in today's cinematic world.