Film Review: 'Deadly Detention'
Saturday detention segues into murder and mayhem in this solid horror-comedy with a strong cast.
With their high school under fumigation, five teens find themselves being sent to an abandoned prison for Saturday detention: popular mean girl Lexie (Alex Frnka), athlete Jessica (Sarah Davenport), narcissistic hot guy Barrett (Henry Zaga), gay religious fanatic Kevin (Coy Stewart), and weird outcast Taylor (Jennifer Robyn Jacobs). The teens are being watched by their neurotic and stern principal Ms. Presley (Gillian Vigman), who is determined to make sure they stay on their best behavior despite the scheming efforts to Lexie to undermine her authority.
Things take a horrifying turn, however, when Ms. Presley is attacked by an unseen killer, leaving the teens to fight to avoid the maniac and escape the prison. Can these very different teens put aside their petty disagreements in order to avoid the grasp of a psychopath determined to make sure none of them leave this detention session alive?
One thing to be aware of when going into Deadly Detention: if you go into the film expecting a standard MarVista made Lifetime-esque mystery, you're going to leave the movie disappointed. The film hardly makes a secret of who the killer is, and even non-mystery film fans are likely to know who it is long before the bodies start dropping. However, in the grand scheme of things, Deadly Detention is not about the mystery of who is trying to kill the teens. Instead, the film is best watched as a slasher movie remake of The Breakfast Club, as in terms of a horror-comedy focusing on high school stereotypes reacting bizarrely to being hunted by a killer, Deadly Detention mostly succeeds.
The film's cast of teen stereotypes are the ones we spend much of the movie with, and if handled poorly, this could've been a crippling error for Deadly Detention. Thankfully, the cast not only does well to deliver the film's comedy, but also brings some depth to their characters to avoid having them all suffer the pitfall of being unlikable archetypes you want to see get slashed sooner rather than later. While Alex Frnka starts the film playing Lexie as a wholly bratty and unlikable Alpha Bitch, the film's progression has Lexie mellowing out and becoming a great deal more likable, even as she continues to dish out insults and sarcasm. Lexie is at her best in her scenes alone with Barrett, as Frnka and Henry Zaga develop a strong chemistry as their snipping dynamic transforms into something different, and the film's climax has Lexie displaying some surprising depth and some very satisfying ferocity.
Zaga works well on his own as the impossibly vain and narcissistic Barrett, injecting his character with a charm that allows you to love him in spite of his arrogant behavior. Sarah Davenport and Coy Stewart are similarly strong and work to break their character away from their initial stereotypes of Designated Good Girl and Token Twofer Minority, and form a chemistry when Jessica and Kevin become unlikely allies during their ordeal. Gillian Vigman also delivers as Principal Presley, visibly throwing her all into the comedically high-strung principal. On the weaker side of the cast is Jennifer Robyn Jacobs as "Basketcase" Taylor, though this is less to do with Jacobs' performance as it is the script giving her nothing but a stale "Weirdo" archetype to work with and never giving her the chance to develop beyond that.
Plot-wise, the comedy of Deadly Detention is mostly effective, though there are moments and bits of dialogue that either try too hard or just don't hit the mark. The humor of the film is best when its more subtle at poking fun at the Teen Slasher genre (a solid example being Jessica and Kevin fleeing from the killer while Lexie and Barrett have sex). The film has a solid pace to keep viewers from getting bored, with the climax and ultimate ending being a satisfying one given what is learned about the antagonist's motivation.
WARNING: Spoilers Below
The climax also works in how it (like the film's best humor) subverts tropes associated with the slasher genre. When the unseen attacker is revealed to be the father of Jenny Duke, a student who recently committed suicide, he's initially built up as a standard vengeful father killing off teens he blames for bullying his daughter to death. But instead, Lexie reveals that not only was Jenny a well-liked student, but she was also Jenny's best friend and had been told by Jenny that her father was abusive to her; thus revealing Pete as a deranged psychopath using the students he chose as victims as a scapegoat to avoid responsibility for his own actions. While the revelation about Lexie's friendship with Jenny would've worked better with more than just a few minor foreshadowing clues as a build up, the moment is not only an effective subversion of a typical slasher trope, but also serves as a strong moment of growth for Lexie.
(Some other subversions in the film's conclusion include Lexie—the film's designated "Slut" archetype who is usually the first to die in a slasher—being the film's Final Girl, and the ending revelation that Ms. Presley and an unspecified few of the teens had survived Pete's killing spree)
The humor of Deadly Detention won't be up to snuff for everyone, and horror gore hounds will be disappointed at the most offscreen carnage. But with a strong cast and humor that pokes light-hearted fun at horror tropes, it's a film that is sure to entertain many a horror fan. A lazy Saturday night in would be the perfect time to give Deadly Detention a watch if you're in the mood for a more humorous slasher flick.
Score: 7 out of 10 suggestively shaped trophies.