Detention – Film Review

L to R: Sander (Aaron David Johnson), Riley (Shanley Caswell), Ione (Spencer Locke), and Clayton Davis (Josh Hutcherson)

…there are no words. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Josh Hutcherson (better known as Peeta Mellark) is, like Hansel in Zoolander, so hot right now. But unlike many of his male-in-female-driven-movie counterparts *ahem, Taylor Lautner*, Hutcherson can actually act. He also has good taste, as evidenced by his recent choice of scripts. In addition to The Hunger Games (fantastic, in this reviewer’s opinion), Hutcherson lent his name as an executive producer to a film that recently premiered at SXSW–this film, Detention.

I’ll start by saying I cannot and will not summarize the plot. Saying anything would give away the genius of the film. That’s why, I assume, the plot summary for the film is almost wrong–the marketing team couldn’t find the words to encompass how complex (though surprisingly easy to follow) the plot is. Just know that the main characters are the depressed, sarcastic Riley, played convincingly well by newcomer Shanley Caswell, Clayton Davis, basically a wonderful amalgamation of Ferris Bueller tropes, played smartly by Hutcherson, Sander Sanderson, Clayton’s negatively-tinged friend, played by Aaron David Johnson (not the guy from Kick-Ass, but still pretty good), and Ione (I assume named for Say Anything star Ione Skye), a hot hipster bitch played to 90s perfection by Spencer Locke.

The script isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s unabashedly smart and absurd. Joseph Kahn and Mark Palermo wrote the film together over a three-year span while Kahn made his living doing music videos and commercials (the style definitely comes through, in a good way) and Palermo worked as a film critic in Nova Scotia. The script is one big satire of postmodernism; it embodies pastiche. The 1990s are not only referred to on a consistent basis (“The 90s are the new 80s”, says B.I.T.C.H. Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods, being awesome) at film’s open [Beauty, Intelligence, (I forget the word for ‘T’), Cleverness, Hoobastank {“What? They’re good!”, Taylor explains}]), they become a major plot point (Jeffrey Dahmer jokes, anyone?). Pop culture references, tropes from classic teen films, and great plant-and-payoff jokes elevate the script. What makes the film excellent, in addition to all of the above, is its lightning-fast, ADHD, legit-play-like pacing, which makes it impossible to check your phone or anything else during the film–you have to pay attention. You miss 30 seconds, you’re lost. But that’s what makes the movie great. You WANT to watch. And unlike many other teen movies these days, this film makes you WANT to think.

The directing, by co-writer Kahn, is filled with visual gags and fun shooting elements (like his commercials and VMA-winning music videos), but earns its keep by consistently keeping the audience’s attention and cramming in character and plot into many long takes (a lot of “meeziks” per shot, as he called them; Spielberg is known for his use of many meeziks per shot). Kahn, who is much older than his target demographic (as is Palermo) manages to keep the film relevant by “mov[ing] at an absurd pace and dar[ing] anyone above 25 to keep up”, according to The Hollywood Reporter’s review.

I’m not sure if anyone will see it in theaters–the distributor seems to be burying it by placing it in literally ONE theater in Burbank when it opens this weekend (where my friends and I might trek to see it again, bringing a few more friends this time; I saw it first last night at a USC screening). However, when you get the chance, you should see it. It’s an indicator of what is to come in the world of cinema, and you’re gonna love it.

About Dylan Visvikis

Dylan Visvikis is a working screenwriter and director in Los Angeles. View all posts by Dylan Visvikis

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