Opens on Friday in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.
Directed by Joseph Kahn
1 hour 28 minutes
Another entry in self-conscious one-upmanship, “Detention” is a horror comedy positively addled with retro references. The students at Grizzly Lake High, visualized as an especially strident pastiche of colorful fashion choices and pecking-order behavior, trade fire with insults that demonstrate savvy or ignorance about pop-culture clichés. In this universe people seem composed of 1 percent water and 99 percent ’90s references and genre expectations.
As a feedbag-faced killer stalks the days and nights, Riley (Shanley Caswell) is a tomboyish outcast with a crush on a hipster-identifying kid named Clapton (Josh Hutcherson, in a role filmed before his appearance in “The Hunger Games”). Clapton, who happily flits among groups, is currently attached to her friend Ione (Spencer Locke), and a nerd (Aaron David Johnson) latches on to Riley, who has trouble convincing people of the danger. Prom night and viewer fatigue await.
Even that description implies a fuller sense of reality than can be found in this self-financed film’s fractured matrix of calling-card camera setups, disposable references and, with an almost comical lack of pretense, time travel. The surprise, perhaps, is that Mr. Kahn can pull off comedy when he wants to: from standard slapstick and teenage drama-queening to the absurd debate between Riley and a weirdly persuasive bullhorn-voiced Canadian in a hockey jersey. Mr. Kahn’s music-video chops also well serve a clever trick shot showing students in detention over the years, with matching music and fashion hooks.
But horror fans will probably grow impatient with the unevenly executed “Scream”-style self-awareness, and Mr. Kahn ultimately loses control of his referential plate-spinning, in what might be another illustration that catering to short attention spans leads only to mutually assured distraction.
“Detention” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Violence, nudity and drug use.