Note: Quotations are taken from filmmaker Joseph Kahn, during a roundtable press interview conducted in Boston on 3/28/2012.
"[The most fun part was] getting to spend my own money and do whatever the f**k I wanted."
-- Director Joseph Kahn, on the making of Detention.
In 2004, director Joseph Kahn made his first leap from being a heavily in-demand helmer to music videos (go check his filmography, there's a lot of memorable stuff on there) into feature films with the motorcycle gang war actioner Torque. The film's producers were looking for a two-wheeled cash in on their own mega-popular The Fast & The Furious franchise, but Kahn says he was more interested in taking the odious auto porn opus down a few pegs. As a result, Torque was a frenetically paced, absurdly unrealistic visual cluster bomb that reveled in cartoon-style physics, eye-rollingly arch characters (caricatures, really) and openly mocked the solemn racing-as-life philosophy gravitas of Fast.
"I love my movie Torque. It's like this weird-ass f***ing cult movie now, but I think it maybe came out ahead of its time. I remember in 2004 there was this big 'pop culture legitimacy' thing because we were just coming off of Backstreet Boys and Britney and everyone was all like 'Sum 41 is real, man!' 'Avril Lavigne is real!' Remember that? Everyone thought they were so f***cking cool, listening to pop-punk ... and they wanted real movies and I go and make this hyper-real 'pop' movie. And everyone was so serious then, so they go 'Oh, look at that Pepsi logo! We're being sold!' Obviously, that was ... I was making a joke about it. And now eight years later everyone is all 'Ooh, look at all the funny jokes!'"
The studio was, reportedly, not happy with the results. Audiences and critics either didn't bother or didn't know what to make of it. The film opened soft, and Kahn found himself and Torque positioned as convenient whipping boys both for the kind of mindless "angry young boy" action schlock he says he'd set out to mock and for the then-trendy bashing of directors not named David Fincher who come from a music video background.
"It's almost better to have never made a movie, and been a waiter, and go to Sundance a get credit for a movie about whatever ... but you direct like 500 music videos and it's a negative."
Fast-forward seven years, and Kahn (who continued to work steadily, piling up awards and accolades for his videos and commercials) has returned to the big screen on his own terms, self-financing and independently producing his own project with total creative control. The result is Detention, a comedy/sci fi/horror genre-fusion that aims to find some greater truth in the post-millennial high school experience by putting the entire sub-class of "teen movies" into a blender and seeing what they end up as.
"Initially we were going, 'Okay, let's make a slasher film.' But just due to the nature of how I am and how I see things, it morphed into ... [what it is] over the course of three years."
The best way to (attempt to) describe Detention is that it's The Breakfast Club gone meta; whereas that film featured a forced together group of teenage life archetypes, the characters in Detention are instantly recognizable as teenage movie archetypes. The main characters of the different "High School Movie" subgenres and not only the droll and depressed "Daria" figure, the American Pie-style sex farce guy and the awkward romantic comedy girl. There's also a nerd who's stumbled onto metaphysical sci fi weirdness straight out of Donnie Darko, a parent/child magical body switch figure reminiscent of Freaky Friday and even a tragic dude living a Cronenberg-inspired version of the mutation-as-metaphor for puberty motif from X-Men or Teen Wolf.
"I think the meaning of it is, you have to look outside yourself, outside your own problems, to move to the next level. If you really look at the way Detention is structured, every kid is living their own genre."
The plot, though, is driven (at least at first) by the possibility that one of them, in addition to their known identity, may also be "CinderHella," a movie-referencing serial killer a la Scream, who's making mincemeat of the student body. The key to discovering CinderHella's identity, stopping his/her/its rampage and correcting whatever greater mysterious negative force is at work in Grizzly Lake High is rooted partially in some Back to The Future-style temporal shenanigans, but also in whether or not the teen heroes can get outside their own heads and work together - i.e., to stop seeing themselves as the stars of their own personal "teen movie" stories.