In so much as this film was marketed at all it was spruced as a Scream for this new decade; see a plot synopsis and it will say something about a serial-killer stalking students in the guise of a slasher icon. Yes, there are some scenes that follow a story such as that, but there are just as many if not more that don’t; scenes that seem more akin to Scary Movie in terms of their absurdest tone and yet these scenes are treated quite seriously at the same time. So no, it doesn’t really make much sense to say that this film is analogous to Scream -it’s more than that in so many ways and less than it in a vital one – but then I’m not really sure how else I would describe it in a single sentence because not since I first saw The Fountain have I been so utterly befuddled by a film.
The confusion stems from the sheer scale of what it is Detention appears to be doing , or trying to do. Where Wes Craven’s classic nineties flick cleverly combined all of horror cinemas cliches and tropes into a single self-aware story Detention seeks instead to intertwine the entire pop-culture zeitgeist of that entire decade; depicting the nineties in a daring ninety minutes. It’s Scream but it’s also Roadhouse, Hanson and John Hughes… it’s everything. Detention is the ultimate exercise in retro, nostalgia taken to its most extreme.
Unfortunately though because it is so packed with these callbacks and references it mostly fails to find a plot of its own. Scream was scary, at least it was to me when i first saw it in the cinema at around seven years old. You could show it to an alien species, their first film, and they would probably find something in it to appreciate, provided of course that they conveniently spoke English and understood concepts like death and linear time. The point is it had a plot, a perfectly functional one that worked well enough without any of it’s post-modern trappings, they were just an added treat for the informed few.
Detention though is all decadence, an utterly unbalanced diet. Instead of being a straight slasher with one twist ( irony and inherent self-reflection) it is a series of such twists with some slasher scenes shoved in, presumably for marketing purposes. The bizarre and asinine point that I just made about the aliens? This picture is made almost exclusively of surreal tangents such as that. As soon as a plot starts to become coherent we cut away from it to focus on a separate, strange side story starring a different character. I won’t even suggest what any of these plots are because summarizing them would net a shake of your head and spoil the surprise, their primary strength. I will, however, say that these are at once brave, brilliant and bafflingly stupid sequences.
Though many are non-sequiturs the way that some of these stories converge is ironically very smart; the timeline of events making more and more sense as you move along it. It’s a shame then that they aren’t actually moving towards anything, that there isn’t much of a point to it all. The closing narration tells us that everybody has a story and speaks of how teenagers exaggerate their daily dramas – much the same themes as Margaret – and while both are true and evident in the picture (every character gets a story, each one is ridiculous) there’s little attempt to use the premise to go any further than that: this isn’t a metaphorical High-School atop a Hellmouth and so their surreal departures aren’t metaphors, they aren’t in the film because they mean something but because the writer/director thought it would be cool or funny. It seems like a film made by High-Schoolers more than it is actually about them.
As a result it is fun though, of that there is no doubt. Detention is interesting, of that there is no doubt, but it’s interesting like the nineties were and keeps your eye in the same way; it’s all big, bold and shiny, bright colors without not much beneath. It keeps you entertained but I doubt it will be remembered nostalgically in a decade or two or ironically referenced as an example of post-irony (post-post-irony?). There won’t be a film wrongly labelled ‘The-Detention-of the 2020’s’ but hey, that’s ok, you don’t need an A to pass here, just to entertain and as i said, it does that aptly enough (even though it could have done hat and so much more).