Meet Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods): most popular girl at Grizzly Lake High and a self-styled bitch. In a fast-paced, straight-to-camera monologue she delivers her guide to not being a total loser, punctuated with cute graphics and text messages. Between screaming at her long-suffering family, she babbles how excited she is to see the new slasher sequel: “Cinderhella II”. That is until Taylor is unexpectedly slashed to death by a mysterious masked killer and flung out of her bedroom window! Our real heroine is Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) who considers herself very much a loser, second only behind the girl caught fellating the school mascot twenty years ago. Already nursing a broken leg, Riley suffers the worst day of her life: mugged on her way to school, she slips on a wet floor, loses the school debate and overhears girls trash-talking her in the washroom.
Worse yet, Riley’s boy crush Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson) is dating her one-time best friend, Ione (Spencer Locke), a perky cheerleader strangely obsessed with Nineties pop culture, while creepy smart-aleck Sander (Aaron David Johnson) has his heart set on seducing Riley, though she is having none of it. Meanwhile, affable slacker Clapton has problems of his own, given he is on the verge of flunking high school while Ione’s ex-boyfriend, homicidal jock Billy Nolan (Parker Bagley) is determined to pound him senseless. A disastrous day for Riley ends miserably as even her public suicide goes awry, bringing her face-to-face with the Cinderhella killer, from whom she narrowly escapes. However, the cops are too preoccupied solving Taylor’s murder to take Riley’s peril seriously. More humiliation and horror follow at a party where an intoxicated Riley’s bare breasts are caught on camera-phone and splashed across the internet, before the killer claims another victim. Grouchy Principal Verge (Dane Cook), who harbours his own high school traumas, promptly consigns Riley to detention along with Clapton, Ione and Sander, plus nerdy science whiz Toshiba (rap star Jonathan 'Dumbfoundead' Park), his Emo-styled unrequited love Mimi (Tiffany Boone) and monosyllabic Toby T. (Marque Richardson). Everyone is surprised to discover another teenager among them: Elliot Fink (Walter Perez), who claims a glitch in the space-time continuum has confined him to the detention room for the last twenty years. Having had a lifetime to decipher the intricacies of quantum physics, Fink informs the dumbstruck high schoolers he believes the world is about to end... in the year 1992.
Having stunned and delighted festival audiences around the world, Detention sadly bypassed theatrical release and bounced straight to DVD. While its relentlessly frenetic cartoon pace and mile-a-minute pop culture references will likely annoy some, more adventurous film fans will be rewarded with an ingenious, often laugh-out-loud hilarious high school horror-cum-science fiction-time travel comedy that ranks among the most original teen movies ever made. Director and co-writer Joseph Kahn - who includes an ingratiating line of dialogue dissing his lacklustre feature debut: Torque (2004) - crafts a hyperkinetic, post-post-modern yarn where slasher film parody is but one lunatic layer in this crazed confection.
The plot consistently and deliberately veers off on insane tangents, as when one character narrates how a childhood encounter with an alien meteorite transformed them into acid-spewing mutant a la The Fly (1986). Later another character casually reveals they’ve magically projected their mind into their mother’s body in the year 1992, so they can win a retro-dance contest! This same character also gets pregnant and gives birth to herself! At one point the characters gather to watch a horror movie that mirrors real-live events, only to find the film’s characters doing the same as the characters in the film they’re watching do likewise. Going one mad step beyond Scream (1996), Detention briefly becomes a film-within-a-film-within-a-film culminating in a stinging put-down of the excesses of torture porn as movies where “bimbos get tortured to feed some music video director's coke habit.”
Alien invasion, an (accidental!) home-made time machine hidden inside a stuffed bear, three star-crossed love affairs across two different time periods, the screen’s funniest anti-vegetarian rant and argument against video piracy and, oh yeah, that crazed killer, all figure into an insane audio-visual frenzy masterfully handled by Kahn. Only at the last second does Kahn throw perhaps one twist too many, though this does not spoil the giddy feel-good delirium of what has gone before. The eye-popping opening credits are worth the price of rental alone, climaxing as star and executive producer Josh Hutcherson vomits Kahn’s directors credit into a toilet bowl, yet the film has super-smart dialogue to complement its super-charged visuals and a knack for punctuating its lunacy with disarmingly poignant and pointed observations about teenage life.
While the nods to teen tentpoles as The Breakfast Club (1985), Scream, Freaky Friday (1977), Back to the Future (1985), Donnie Darko (2001), My Science Project (1985), Mean Girls (2004) and Clueless (1995) - with Spencer Locke’s performance a delicious parody of Alicia Silverstone - coupled with a Pirandellian narrative pitch this close to Hellzapoppin' for the i-Phone generation, there is method in Kahn’s meta-textual madness. Its shares an agenda not far removed from the slacker sci-fi anime gem FLCL (2000) which spun a similarly off-the-wall yet philosophical fantasy on the theme of teen alienation. Kahn crafts a vision whose mind-boggling weirdness cannily mirrors the confusion of modern teenage life, where kids struggle to cling onto something honest and true amidst a blur of Twitter blurbs, high-speed imagery, raging hormones and social embarrassment. Detention envisions a world that is every bit as askew and unfathomable as many a troubled teen has imagined it, yet in a wry commentary on the desensitised nature of our media-saturated world, everyone remain unphased no matter what the increasingly fantastical plot throws at them. Horror parody remains only one aspect of its agenda, but the film remains admirable by casting a heroine who is defiantly not a virgin while the killer is. It also challenges that stale teen film cliché of how the self-righteous loner is somehow nobler than the crowd. Here the heartening message is that everyone matters and characters come to realise high school is not the end of the world, culminating in a cathartic, celebratory dance-off to “MmmBop” by Hanson.