Armond White: Joseph Kahn’s Detention vs. the World of Pop

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film, Arts Our Town, Arts Our Town Downtown, Arts West Side Spirit, Our Town, Our Town Downtown, West Side Spirit.


High, Low, Surreal

Pop culture moves fast but not as fast as Joseph Kahn’s Detention, a rampage through recent pop history that is so delirious–and so sharp about the cynicism ingrained in commercial pop’s almost hateful seductions of youth–that it sometimes seems one and the same with the target Kahn is satirizing.

Students at Grizzly Lake High School are being stalked by a maniacal killer who chops heads and limbs with a scythe. Yep, this Grim Reaper is Time itself–the digital countdown on products and branding and self-esteem that, for this millennial generation, have become the only measure of what matters. Such desperate dizziness describes current pop consciousness. The Grizzly Lake kids are interchangeable consumers–Riley (Shanley Caswell), Clapton (Josh Hutcherson), Ione (Spencer Locke), Billy Nolan (Parker Bagley) are all caught up in an existential whirl of bait-of-switch which is the consequence of capitalism’s rise and morality’s decline. Kahn, a music video director of true visual imagination (Britney’s Toxic, Kylie’s All the Lovers, Pussycat Dolls‘’ When I Grow Up), has co-written a script that comically expresses this fast-moving hysteria.

In the near-decade since Kahn’s still-remarkable action movie Torque, pop culture has gone through so many head-spins that satire has virtually disappeared from the culture. Torque was castigated for Kahn’s avant-witty technique. (He knew what was thrilling and absurd in action tropes and heroic bravado and yet showed the ability to parody it.) Since then, wit is no longer used to criticize behavior but merely to flatter it; to get people to buy more product, to train kids to worship the market, consume attitude and display vanity without thinking. Detention mocks that brazen self-satisfaction when an unbearably obnoxious high-schooler (“I’m Beautiful, Intelligent, Talented, Charmismatic and Hoobastank!”) meets the Reaper. From there, Kahn’s script rings the alarm on modern, cultural-wide homicide.

Kahn’s premise–combining John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club with Scream, then amping it with a mash-up of Back to the Future and Saw–would be diabolical if it weren’t so dead-on funny (harshest of Riley’s many put-downs is to tell a Spielberg-basher “I don’t speak Fanboy!”) and executed with drop-dead panache. There’s a continuous 360-degree pan through eleven years of pop song totems and teen fads that sneaks up on you as one of the most fantastically detailed set-pieces in modern movies. It’s also an homage to Brian DePalma’s vertiginous 360-pan in Blow-Out. Both DePalma and Kahn use their technical aplomb and social acuity to similarly encircle a moral void.

To read the full review at CityArts click here.

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