August 28, 2012 By  

Joseph Kahn’s Detention is out on DVD today and if you haven’t seen it then it you should. It is one of the best teen/slasher/ursine time travel/comedy films in recent years. It doesn’t so much throw its hat into a crowded arena of schoolbound horrorshows as kick a sack of grenades into it.

Kahn has been vociferous in the positive fallout of the 2011 festival screenings (SXSW is where it premiered, almost 16 months ago) that people should watch the film, and importantly that they do so legally. There was a lengthy post on his blog, called simply STOP PIRATING, in which he breaks down some of the accrued misconceptions about the modern methods of obtaining movies as well as giving a personal commentary on what it is like to see five years of creative endeavour end up on thousands of small screens with no return.

There are a number of reasons why going out right now and buying a copy of Detention is a good idea. Chief amongst them, and pertinent to the very essence of this website, is that it’s a great movie. You’ll have a lot of fun with it and it throws rewards at you with every repeated viewing. Few films I’ve seen this year have lingered in the mind quite as this one. It’s an artistic shot in the dark, ‘pure’ in the words of the director, and on that principle alone it deserves your time.

Here are five other good reasons.

It doesn’t hate teenagers.

It loves their energy, their ideas, that determination not to face-pummel you with the crass expectations of what a teenager should be. It isn’t Juno and it doesn’t assume you have seen every John Hughes film. It credits its characters, and by extension you as an audience, with the wit to be able to engage with its story without anchoring itself with a slew of clichés.

There are vapid arrogant selfish arseholes here. Stupid narcissism and ill-bred opinions abound. The trick here is that it understands that there are just as many egotistical bullshit-opinionated adults out there, no-one has the character description of teenager. Most high-school slashers are peopled with walking clichés getting picked off one by one, here the horror element is a part of the story, it isn’t the story. The characters aren’t caricatures. This doesn’t happen often.

It doesn’t hate you.

Scary Movie is a good approximation of what Detention could have become in studio hands. They may have used Kahn’s music video contacts to have Katy Perry cameo as a nerdy girl (her single utterance would contain a well-known line from one of her songs), Luke Perry (no relation) would have played a teacher in 1992. “Yeah! Let’s have the characters talk about how much like Donnie Darko it is. I know a stunning 27 year old who can pass as a teenager, she’s in…” And so on, into oblivion.

It’s not about being smug and dictating how you should speak in order to be seen as clever. It doesn’t waste your time lining up clichés and then knocking them down, then high fiving you because -hey, you’re in the know. It doesn’t hate you. It wants you to enjoy the shit out of it and does its damnedest to make sure that happens.

It is the anti-Inception.

Nolan’s film was heralded as being an intelligent blockbuster. This was because there was a high concept idea wrapped up in a narrative in which audiences were given more than one concurrent timeline to think about. In Detention time travel makes sense, is used to reveal character traits, propels the narrative along and isn’t used to make people feel clever. It just is. It works and it’s fun.

It is more than simply a vomitus of pop culture and movie references; there’s much going on but it’s not simply Hot Cub Time Machine. The Back to the Future references are cute, the Scream shout-out gets there before you do and while Mr. Verge (not Vernon) doesn’t threaten any skull cracking there’s a neat Breakfast Club vibe to the penultimate act but at no time does We Are Not Alone by Karla DeVito get an airing.

It does mash-up genres and it does move really fast not because it assumes ‘audiences of today’ (a thinly veiled and reductive euphemism for stupid kids) can’t deal with any one thing for too long. It does so because it assumes they can. And there’s great rewards in doing so.

Joseph Kahn risked a lot for it.

For all the mentions of bit torrent and the scene in which a pirated movie Droste effect becomes an important plot point there’s much to Kahn’s belligerence that people should pay to see the film. He’s not the first director to self-finance his film, and he won’t be the last, but Detention is the sort of film whose script, if plunged through the Hollywood meat grinder, would be rejected immediately or emerge as a faceless Scream-a-like.

In a recent interview he stated,

We actually started doing something completely different. We wanted to do something a bit more conventional, and maybe a little more commercial, but as I developed the script for over a year, I realized that I’m not that guy. There’s a piece of me that just wants to play too much, that wants to kick sand out of the sand castle and replace it with, I don’t know, diamonds. I had to play, and what you see is really the result of me going to town.

If you buy or rent the film you’re not only getting to enjoy a great film, you’re encouraging other people to play with diamonds.

It didn’t sell itself like this.

or like this

or, heaven forfend, like this,

Detention is out on DVD right now.