Pay attention when you’re getting a dvd. I saw some year-end top 10’s and there was a film called “Detention” on one or two of these lists. As a fan of horror and of teen media, I thought I’d check it out. It transpired that I bought the 2010 film called Detention instead of the 2011 one. There should be a rule against naming your films the same thing as a film only a year older. It could confuse a stupid person.
I realised something was wrong when the lightning effects were like a bad CD-ROM game, badly drawn onto the sky above a high school. I quickly went to IMDB to discover that I had the wrong movie. This was still a horror movie, and given the badness of the effects, I figured it could be a laugh, and carried on.
The big names, as it turns out, are David Carradine (who nearly gets asphyxiated early by a car seat belt, oddly prescient, but at least he didn’t have his tadger out) and Zelda Williams. As in Robin Williams’ daughter, because he’s a geek. Nintendo have capitalised on this with some charming-looking adverts, but Detention has her as that kind of goth stereotype who only exists in these kind of horror movies. I’ve not seen her act before and to her credit, she’s one of the better actors of the bunch. Her acting is wildly inconsistent going from over to underplayed between cuts, like there were two versions of her character being played and they used both for this film. At one moment she’s calm and chilled about the situation, cut away, cut back and she’s having a panic attack, pounding at the doors.
So who are these people and what’s going on?
The cold open has a kid in the past bullied by one of those inter-racial, inter-gender school gangs, locked in a cage in the school basement which catches fire when lightning strikes the building. He burns and they don’t go back to try and save him. Admittedly they’d just melt their hands off trying to get him back, but that doesn’t matter.
In the present day we have a boy and girl who are best friends, the boy is painfully nondescript and the girl’s attractive to have been the hot girl on several Asylum movies. The guy’s best friend is a surfer-chic guy who thinks he’s a Jamaican Ninja and is introduced by tackling his BFF.
There’s a rich girl, her paranoid stalker, a black kid and Zelda Williams as the goth girl. I want to have a descriptor other than black kid for the black kid, but he genuinely has no other character traits. Those are the kids, then we have David Carradine as the headmaster and a new teacher who’s curious about the tragedy. The surfer kid, goth, black kid, rich girl and paranoid stalker are all one-note characters, whose every line must be relating to their descriptor. The hot girl and the boy in the friend zone don’t even have that.
There’s one big problem which low-budget teen horror has gained in the last fifteen or so years, and that’s Joss Whedon. The writing of Joss Whedon has made the writers of these films think they’re witty. And they’ve made the characters think that they’re written by witty writers. They’re not. The glib comments are contrived at best and do nothing to make you like or believe in the uneasy performances. As much as I’ve been a fan of Joss in the past, I blame this on him. And I guess Kevin Williamson.
For whatever circumstances, all of the kids end up in DETENTION! Oh yes, Ghost Ship moment! They have an angry teacher who apparently is only good enough to watch over kids in detention. The weather gets bad, suspiciously bad, and that’s the first time it’s happened since the accident all those years ago. The angry teacher leaves with the curious teacher, locking the kids in. They start to see bad CGI ghosts through the window and fight between wanting to escape by going through the same door they’ve seen the ghosts in, or turning on each other as only one-dimensional stereotypes can.
There’s a surprising lack of fear or bloodshed. Not that I’m a gore fan, but even moments of suspense are absent. The CG ghosts wouldn’t have made it scarier, but even they don’t appear often, and any flickering of ghost people is on a delay, like it’s in slow-motion.
The goth girl’s left behind, the rich girl apparently likes the black kid and actually enjoys being called ‘bitch’. Worrying. Those two go to the stage where they prop swordfight with real swords, watched by the stalker, who has gone a bit evil and possessed.
The generic guy, girl and surfer kid are caught and the generics wander off mid-conversation with the curious teacher. Apparently she didn’t hear and/or care.
Finally things start kicking off as the black kid apparently was a theatre geek and the posh girl was REALLY dumb. Like really dumb. Still, she’s good with a sword and thanks to jump cuts she dives around, smacking the black kid around the head with a sword. Luckily it doesn’t draw blood, but he spins around, thrusts and stabs her through the chest.
He and the stalker have a bit of a fight about that which ends with the black kid being killed. The surfer drinks random things from chemistry class, hallucinates his dad from the flashback (bum bum buuuuuum!!!) telling him to kill himself in retribution for what they did to the kid. He does and it turns out to be CURIOUS GHOST TEACHER!!!!?!!!1!!OMFGBBQ!!!!111!!! Yes. She seems to be some kind of ghost.
The generic couple have a stabby encounter with a bloodstained stalker who seems to like killing now. His performance is hilarious, so hammy that I hope it’s on youtube to see. He’s as high-pitched and inappropriate to the setting as Moriarty from the new Sherlock. Great.
David Carradine got butchered by the camp stalker kid at some point, thinking that he was a ghost of the kid in the fire. That is all. Was this his final movie? I hope not.
Zelda died and is a flickery modern horror movie ghost, just in whatever video editing package came with the PC. The generic girl is kidnapped, which makes no sense if the ghosts were just killing before. Still, that lures the generic guy to the basement and the big shock twist is revealed.
This isn’t the kid from the fire doing all the killings, it’s the teacher, who is his guh guh guh ghost mum! The generics mention that the ghost of her son isn’t there, only she can see him because she made him up, she’s that deranged. My biggest gripe of her being too young to have been a mother in the 70’s is answered as she killed herself on school grounds and wasn’t noticed.
There’s a fight, the generic boy rescues the generic girl and lightning strikes the school, incinerating the ghost. They flee, but the special effects weren’t enough to blow up the basement, so it all seems a bit melodramatic.
We end with the star performer, the hammy, campy stalker’s line about being good at killing. Hint at a sequel? I can only hope.