I love films. I think that’s obvious from the fact that I write for a film website, but really, I do. Films are what keeps me going, what gets me up, what I’m passionate about. As with any passion, there needs to be something to set it off. No flame without a spark. I may go on about the genius of Before Sunrise or the tragic beauty of A Bittersweet Life, these aren’t the films I turn to when I think of a film that epitomises my love for the medium. No, the film that does that is a teen high-school horror-comedy with Josh Hutcherson and Dane Cook.
Detention is a film that’s impossible to summarise, because there’s no central element. The DVD box and the Netflix description do an almost adorable attempt at this, talking about the film’s antagonist, Cinderhella, and her ‘coming to life from a movie screen’ or something equally ridiculous that just straight up doesn’t happen in the film. The fact is, Detention is an unsellable film. What’s the synopsis? What’s the hook? The hook is that Detention is one of the weirdest, most utterly crazy films possibly ever made.
Director Joseph Kahn is a music video man, and the director of the vast majority of music videos you’ve probably seen through the 2000s. His only previous film is Torque, which is probably the dumbest and most clever satire of the Fast & Furious films of the era they were popular. His experience in music videos shows in Detention, as everything is fast-paced, rapid-fire, and barely takes a pause for breath. This is one of those films that you know you will love or hate in the first ten minutes. Hell, the first line exemplifies the film’s style to the point that I now know it off by heart, it’s that striking. Detention sets out its intentions very early on, being primarily a comedy, but mixing every single genre known to man. Have you seen it in a film? It’s probably parodied in Detention, then.
Detention‘s weirdness is on full-force for the entirety of its running time, and that’s something you’ll either love or hate. It’s a constant barrage of style and ideas, and to some that might be a hindrance. It’s boiling over with ambition to say…well, everything it can. It’s not a timeless movie by any stretch of the imagination. In just five years this film could easily be extremely dated, though it feels like it knows that. It is a film made explicitly for the teenagers of the day, with their purported tiny attention spans, texting in cinemas, and rampant ADHD. Detention feels like a challenge to those people. A challenge to stay with it, as if you take your attention off of it for more than a nanosecond you will be lost completely. Whether you love it or whether you loathe, there’s no denying it’s never boring.
‘Hipster’, ‘post-modern’, and various other terms are all labels that Detention has been stuck with, but I think that’s only because it’s so hard to define. I guess it is kind of both of those things, but at the same time it isn’t. It’s clearly made from the perspective of someone who adores pop culture and has lived and breathed it for their entire lives. Say what you want about many of Joseph Kahn’s music videos, many of them are clichÃ©d or outright bad (but to be honest any director would have bad films when you have an output that ridiculously huge), but they’re what this generation is watching. More than films, more than TV, what teenagers watch is music videos on Youtube. Kahn is tapping into this generation’s viewing and attention habits better than anyone, making a film that, as I said, dares the viewer to understand it, challenges them to keep up with its sheer, unadulterated batshit insanity.
Detention is a film about culture, specifically pop culture, but no one would know that looking at the DVD, or the poster, or anything about the film, so I suggest I new title:
Detention, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love (and Simultaneously Hate) Pop Culture.
Rolls right off the tounge.