• Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

One of the great problems that come with being a critic is the knowledge that you can’t get around to everything. Even if I had the time and resources to do this professionally and see a new film every day, there would still be new releases to fall through the cracks. Furthermore, the time that I spend on some new release is time that I could (and perhaps should) be spending on some classic must-see movie that I haven’t gotten to yet. Throw in the fact that I have a life outside this blog, and a lot tends to fall by the wayside.

Lawless is an excellent case in point right now. I’ve set aside time to see this movie like three or four times this week, only for life to intervene every time. It’s an infuriating thing.

So, now that I’m suddenly left with a Lawless-sized hole in my schedule, the time seems right to address another film that somehow slipped past me: Detention. Several of my favorite news sites and critics implored their readers to seek this film out, yet I never got around to it. Maybe I was busy with something else at the time? Maybe the film never came to Portland to begin with? In any case, the film has finally come out on DVD and I can give it the Movie Curiosities treatment.

Unfortunately, giving it the Movie Curiosities treatment proved very difficult. Honest to God, I’ve never gotten such a tough case of writer’s block when it came time to review a movie, especially not a movie that’s this awesome. As badly as I want to sing the praises of this film and encourage you all to see it, I can’t seem to figure out how.

You have no idea how many times I had to stop the DVD just to wrap my head around what was going on. You have no idea how many drafts of this blog entry I got partway through before deleting the whole thing, trying to write something coherent that would do the movie justice. Just watch the movie for yourself (seriously, go do it) and you’ll see what I mean.

Maybe it would be best if I start with the film’s most normal aspects and build from there. The setting, for example, is a simple town called Grizzly Lake. More specifically, it’s set in Grizzly Lake High School, following a handful of students who go there.

Our protagonist is Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell). She’s your basic vegetarian, humanitarian, feminist, uber-liberal activist, though she’s really just looking for attention. See, Riley is a social outcast with a chronic case of bad luck. She’s clumsy enough to be a danger to herself and others (no, really, she has a self-inflicted broken foot when we meet her), and nobody notices that Riley is actually quite attractive.

Next up is Clapton Davis, played by exec-producer Josh Hutcherson. He’s a nice, charming, “everyman” kinda guy who rides his skateboard everywhere. Clapton is another screwup who can’t seem to get a passing grade to save his life, but unlike Riley, everyone seems to like him. Except for Billy Nolan, of course.

Billy (Parker Bagley) is a stereotypical bully through and through. He’s a star member of the football team, he’s dumb as a goal post, and every other sentence out of his mouth has something to do with how Clapton is totally dead. The twist is that Billy only acts aggressive to compensate for a childhood trauma, but we’ll get to that later. Or possibly not. At this point, I can’t make any promises.

Anyway, Billy primarily wants to beat up Clapton because of Ione Foster (Spencer Locke). Formerly Riley’s BFF, Ione inexplicably turned into a vapid cheerleading star who briefly dated Billy before dumping him for Clapton. So now Riley is jealous that Clapton is dating this brainless floozy, not that she’d ever admit it.

Instead, Riley has to fend off advances from Sander Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson). He’s your stereotypical nerd; pessimistic, incredibly pervy, and smarter than most would give credit for. He’s also Clapton’s best friend.

(Side note: If you’re having trouble keeping track of the various relationships between these characters, I should warn you that things ain’t getting any easier.)

There’s also the school’s principal, played by none other than Dane Cook. I realize that might put a lot of people off the movie right away, but it’s important to note that Principal Verge is supposed to be a slimy, self-righteous, generally despicable dickhead. Who better than Dane Cook to play such a role?

Of course, we also have the token black guy (Toby T, played by Marque Richardson II), the Asian technological genius (Toshiba, played by Jonathan “Dumbfoundead” Park), and the goth (Mimi, played by Tiffany Boone). There’s also Gord (Travis Fleetwood), a foreign exchange student who’s particularly argumentative and confrontational for someone who comes from Canada. Last but not least is Elliot Fink (Walter Perez), a total enigma in a grey hoodie who just blends into the environment.

At this point, you might be wondering how the film could be so bizarre. The characters sound easy enough to understand, after all, even if they are a bit two-dimensional. Well, that’s only because we haven’t discussed the plot yet.

It’s important to note that the film opens with a three-minute monologue in which a character directly addresses the audience and conjures on-screen graphics to help make her point. As such, it’s made immediately clear that this film is self-aware. The movie pokes fun at itself. And because the cast is made almost entirely of familiar stereotypes, the film therefore makes fun of the stereotypes and the various movie genres in which they can be found. All of them.

This film’s plot plows through parodies of dance movies, coming-of-age dramas, superpowered characters, and every single film genre that involves a high school, including the time-honored “Freaky Friday” parent/child body swap. And all of this is under the umbrella of a horror movie parody, in which the slasher dresses like the main character from “CinderHella II,” which is itself a parody of the Saw movies.

And that isn’t even getting started on the time-travel element.

It’s worth remembering that all of this is compressed into a 93-minute film. As a direct result, this narrative moves at such a breakneck pace that there’s no time to catch your breath and ask just what the fuck is going on. Even on DVD, when I had the option of pausing the film at any time, I could only keep watching and have faith that everything made sense in whatever batshit world this movie takes place in.

Seriously, when the movie asked me to believe that a high school physics student could find, identify, and operate some alien machinery found in a taxidermied bear, there was really nothing left to do but keep suspending disbelief until the credits rolled.

Yet the film is so awesome precisely because all of this insanity pays off in devilishly clever ways. Case in point: Writer/director Joseph Kahn managed to plausibly create a scenario in which the world will literally end if a girl doesn’t accept a guy’s prom offer. No kidding. There’s also the story of a girl who fellated a statue of the school’s mascot, the aforementioned parent/child body swap, and a bunch of other weird-ass story points with utterly nonsensical setups and absolutely brilliant pay-offs.

Never mind thinking outside the box, Kahn doused the box in gasoline, lit the box on fire, and then pissed on the ashes. So much creativity and intelligence went into this film that I can barely scratch the surface before my brain blows a fuse.

For another example, just think about the film’s slasher. Scream was famous for creating a slasher villain that imitated and parodied horror movie tropes of yesteryear. Detention creates a slasher villain that parodies and imitates horror movie tropes of the 21st century (read: the post-Scream era), and then goes a step further and makes the villain an imitation of the imitation! That is meta on a level that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson could scarcely imagine.

By the way, the movie clearly knew it was poking fun at Scream in the process. The film is overflowing with pop-culture references and ’90s nostalgia, and any combination of the two will inevitably lead to thoughts of Scream.

That said, don’t for a minute think that this movie is a direct rip-off of any other film. So many different genres, stereotypes, and pop-culture references are mixed together in such a funny and creative fashion that this film is absolutely one-of-a-kind. Hell, I haven’t even gotten started on the film’s visual style. Imagine Scott Pilgrim vs. the World if Edgar Wright was on meth and you’d be on the right track.

I wish I knew what I could say that would convince you to see Detention. The film was smart enough to twist my brain into knots without making me feel stupid for it. The film was daring enough to take some major storytelling risks and creative enough to make the risks work out. The film was funny enough and entertaining enough that I gladly stayed through the entire running time, even when things resolutely made no sense. Last but not least, the film had so much meta humor and pop culture references that it made my film buff’s mind explode.

There is simply no substitute for watching this film, not only because it’s impossible to describe, but also because I’m confident there isn’t a film like it anywhere to be found. Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you to seek this film out and give it a shot.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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