From the promotional materials it looks like Detention is going to be the typical, scary-guy-in-a-mask horror movie. And in the first few minutes of the flick, the blood certainly spurts. But as the story of awkward teen Riley Jones unfolds, the movie becomes a multi-genre extravaganza. Part horror movie, part teen romance and all a giant nod to ‘90s pop culture. Detention is less gory, gross-out flick than one might expect and more an homage to everything retro from Patrick Swayze to Scream to Deepak Chopra.

The Players:

The Plot:

Detention follows Riley Jones, played by Shanley Caswell, who is the second least popular kid at Grizzly Lake High School. To make matters worse, she has a cast on her foot and an unrequited crush on the boy next door, Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson). That’s already enough to make Riley suicidal. But the fact that the crazed killer from everyone’s favorite movie-within-the-movie, Cinderhella, has jumped the screen and is slashing local teens is clearly making things worse. While Riley lives her own teen romance-turned-horror-flick, her friends and classmates are caught up in their own classic movie genres.

The Good:

  • Josh Hutcherson: The movie is executive produced by and stars it-boy of the moment, Josh Hutcherson, who’s currently kicking butt with his megahit The Hunger Games. He skillfully plays the popular guy, who’s constantly making puppy dog eyes at the popular girl he’s trying to win over, Ione (Spencer Locke).
  • An Enthusiastic Ensemble: The supporting cast really embraces their over-the-top roles. Locke seems like she was plucked right out of 1992 to play the role in a life-imitates-art bit of casting. Aaron David Johnson also proves he has the range from cuddly-to-creepy, playing the nerdy best friend Sander Sanderson, who like so many others in the film may or may not have an actual axe to grind. And Dane Cook serves his purpose as the tough-guy principal who likes to reign with tough love and do the obligatory ear-whisper of warning to misguided students now and then.
  • Shanley Caswell: Caswell really grounds the movie. Every time Detention starts to get lost in a chapter about space aliens or references to the movie The Fly, Riley appears on screen and brings viewers right back where they needed to be — interested just in her character’s storyline. Not an easy task in a film that is such an assault of clever graphics, wall-to-wall music and stylized camera moves.
  • Kahn Had Free Rein: Director Joseph Kahn financed Detention himself, making it what he calls the most expensive home movie ever made. After one previous big studio experience directing the motorcycle movie Torque, Kahn was wise to protect his twisting-turning script from multiple-level executive input and the often soul-crushing audience recruit reshoots. If someone had tugged on one thread of the Detention fabric, the complex tapestry would have unraveled.
  • A Multi-Genre Romp: To review Detention is actually to review five or six separate movies all rolled into one. The slasher flick might disappoint die-hard horror buffs who want a whole lot of blood and guts. Teen romance aficionados will get to ooh and ahh over the dreamy Hutcherson and whether or not he’ll end up with the popular girl or the best friend. Sci-fi fanboys will appreciate that they get a time-travel, creature feature and alien adventure mash-up. Disney devotees will even enjoy a taste of Freaky Friday body swapping.
  • Whodunit Really Doesn’t Matter: At the end of the day, whodunit becomes almost less important than will they kiss or won’t they, who’s living in a time period in which they weren’t born and who’s the dude in the hoodie. Luckily Kahn answers all of these questions, and a few more, like how did Principal Verge get that scar after all?

The Bad:

  • The Exhaustion Factor: There’s so much going on in Detention it’s sometimes hard to keep up. And the exhaustion factor doesn’t come from concentrating on a deep and thought-provoking plot. Instead just staying on top of the constantly shifting storylines and in-your-face graphics can wear the viewer down.
  • Music Overload: Kahn has built his career directing music videos so it’s not surprising that the movie is pretty much wall to wall cues. But where a great soundtrack serves as a supporting character to the film, too many loud tunes can overpower the flick itself. There are moments in Detention, where a little bit of quiet would have served the greater good.

Overall: 

Even if you don’t like horror movies, there’s a lot to take away from Detention. It may be overloaded with plotlines and pop culture references, but it gets good grades for delivering unexpected surprises around every corner.

Rating: 8/10

Detention opens in theaters on Friday, April 13. Check local listings for a theater near you.

Will you be seeing Detention?

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Written by Amy and Nancy Harrington