From its first moments, Detention lets the audience know that it‚(TM)s not going to be a typical teen-horror comedy. We are introduced to Taylor, a Generation Y nightmare made from equal parts My Super Sweet Sixteen protagonist and Hipster Runoff article. She cheerfully berates her hapless family and potential hook ups while extolling her toxically narcissistic and hyper connected world view before being brutally murdered by a generic masked serial killer called Cinderhella. Khan demonstrates that he is aware of the simmering hatred that exists for particularly self-involved teenage girls and the dark satisfaction that comes from seeing them brutally, artfully murdered. From there we are introduced to a group of modernized high school stereotypes; Riley (Shanley Caswell), the kind of girl who goes to a costume party dressed as Angela Chase, Clapton (Josh Hutcherson), a boy with the personality of a young Matthew McConaughey and the taste of Pitchfork blogger, Ione (Spencer Locke) a fractal of a blonde cheerleader, and a lascivious nerd with omnicidal tendencies called Sander (Aaron David Johnson).
Kahn uses and abuses his cast in all the ways we've seen before in '80 teen comedies, Kevin Williamson's '90s output and post 9/11 indie cinema for the first third of the film before adding plot lines of a half dozen other genre movies in the margins of the film to increasingly dazzling effect. Clapton is menaced by an impossibly stupid jock (Parker Bagley) who is going through a Cornenbergian body horror arc. Riley's Heathers' influenced quips fall away when she‚(TM)s targeted by Cinderhella. Ione becomes the most popular girl in school pulling a Freaky Friday with her mother's teenage self who looks and acts exactly like her. Sander goes through an inversion of Donnie Darko's journey without the benefit of being as attractive as Jake Gyllenhaal. There are other genre types present such Dane Cook's youth hating principle and a few ethnic supporting players that have as minimal characterization, as is tradition but they're mostly window dressing to further underline the moral of most '80s teen comedies: destroy everything unique and unpleasant about yourself and you'll be happy. This thematic spine keeps the piece from falling into incoherence despite the disparate genre elements.
Outside of the carefully dissection of generic types, to which Khan makes the unoriginal judgment that they are not full of depth, he does score some points for his vaguely insightful view of teenage life. Khan gives his kids broad cultural tastes that range from worshiping Patrick Swayze movies to a communal interest in watching the latest torture porn movie. They all speak in Williamson-ian hyper articulation and meta awareness with a presentational style that recalls in her prime Winona Ryder. These elements give the impression that Khan drew inspiration from his own youth rather than the throngs of Katy Perry loving youngsters that Khan makes videos for. But some things are timeless, like parties where the host demands that no one uses the toilet or the way inseparable friendships implode when mutual desire is introduced into the equation. These moments of adolescent pain and insecurity shine through all the layers of reference and sarcasm and hint that Khan has more going on than ‚look at how well I've studied the things I loved as a child‚?.
You can see Khan's enthusiasm and visual flair in sequences where a teenager lives through twenty years of changing musical and fashion trends in one beautiful 360 degree shot or how Khan subtly changes up how he films the movie depending on what genre he's playing with; lens flares and speed ramping for the horror scenes and color saturated medium and close shots for the romatic stuff. He also throws in a few bits of the fiery end-of-the-world terror, Glee style musical, and most enigmatically alien abduction conspiracy. This genre m√ (C)lange works best when Khan focuses on the fantastic, as shown in his music video work where he does spectacle well but he stumbles with it comes to crafting relatable characters. Because Khan fails to maintain a balance between pop fun and smaller moments of human interaction, he fails to successful crossover formats the way Spike Jonze, Jonathan Glazer and Mark Romanek. Detenetion is solid first effort but a first effort nonetheless.
At this point Khan has reached the level of Paul Hunter, Bryan Barber and Hype Williams, being an effective visual stylist who got to make one inventively directed, wildly uneven feature. Hunter, Barber and Williams all retreated back into the world of music videos with periodic threats to return to big screen film making with no success. Khan, with his anarchic tone, inarguable skills and ambition to prove that multiple genres can overlap without drowning each other out could find himself on par with Neveldine/Taylor or he could be the next Marcos Seiga, a man who directed one interesting film followed by a Ryan Reynolds drama and absolute nadir of any filmmaker's career, a Nick Cannon comedy. If he learns the right lessons from his first directorial effort and is selective about the material he works on next he'll make something amazing. If not, he'll be the third choice to direct Green Lantern 2.
While "Detention" might be a mess, it is a glorious one that makes a sort of weird sense, even after it takes a good while to get started, succeeding as much as it does on pure chutzpah. What it basically involves is a lot of teenage movie tropes from the 80's being taken kicking and screaming to the present day with a stop in 1992 which everybody seems strangely obsessed with. What remains timeless are all the indignities that we all suffered through in high school, especially the part involving being forced to wear a bear costume.
Detention has no central plot to speak or any real focus for that matter. We have aliens, a time-machine in a Bear statue, end of the world scenario, a time traveling plot point, a prom, some teenager with mutant traits, and a cow going into an alien spaceship all in one movie. One thing you'll probably notice upon viewing this is that it lacks logic, proper pacing, and is overall uneven. Despite not being able to balance comedy and horror well together, the comedic aspect worked. It did generally me laugh, though the constant pop culture references are annoying. It's very self aware that it's a movie and doesn't take itself too serious and should you while watching it. Another problem are the unnecessary back stories for some of the characters and other characters we could done without. It'll definitely appeals more to younger audiences while older audiences might simply hate this the nonsense of what they're witnessing. Though despite poor writing in general, it's a movie you shouldn't take seriously and simply enjoy the craziness the ensures.
Other than the annoying blonde in the beginning of the movie who thankfully dies within three minutes, the cast is pretty likable. You could tell the cast had a blast doing such a ridiculous and over the top film. Josh Hutcherson is actually enjoyable here, unlike the last soulless movie I saw him in called The Forger. Although I do disapprove of Josh Hutcherson saving Dane Cook in 1992, which explains Hucterson lack of popularity. Shanley Caswell is not only good looking, but likable, charming, and not that bad of an actress. Dane Cook, like always, is unfunny. Although you do get to see him get axed in the chest, but unfortunately he lives by the end of the movie. The movie has some nice visual, kinetic energy, and a enjoyable cast.
Detention lacks plot and is simply weird to experience, but it doesn't take itself seriously and neither should you for a good time. If you're not a not demanding a central plot or anything that requires using your brain, Detention is the movie for you.
The film shows a lot of promise, but it loses its narrative and heart in all of the style.