johnlink ranks DETENTION OF THE DEAD (2012)

I’m a sucker for silly horror. Especially on the last day of a long (but productive) conference on Arts Integration, it was time for some silly horror comedy. DETENTION OF THE DEAD is a movie that’s been lurking on Starz Play for awhile. I knew it was probably dumb, so I needed the right time to unleash the fury. Added bonus: The high school in this movie is Lincoln High. Their mascot: The Lions. Ironically, despite being named John Lincoln I grew up in Cumberland, Rhode Island though our rival next town over was the Lincoln Lions. It all comes full circle. In a silly horror movie.

DOTD_04

I watched DETENTION OF THE DEAD (2012) on 2.7.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

The super obvious allusion, here, is the combination of any given zombie film with THE BREAKFAST CLUB. A bunch of misfit high school students (all played by obviously over high school aged actors) are serving detention. A zombie apocalypse breaks out in school, and they must put aside their differences to survive.

This is a movie played for humor. The zombie violence is real, but the deaths are done in an over-the-top humorous way. The dialogue wants to be funny, but the one-liners don’t land with much zing. Despite those issues, the actors are mostly likable in their earnest way. These aren’t traditionally casted actors, even if the stereotypes they play are extremely obvious stereotypes. It’s as if the local casting people chose to slightly skew the film by casting actors who didm;t quite match their stereotype (save maybe the cheerleader who matches type in an obvious fashion).

In the writing, unfortunately, those stereotypes are overly stated. The Asian guy, Ash, (Justin Chon) is a stoner-type outsider. The military recruit (Jayson Blair) talks recons and breaches despite being a non-military type. The geek (Jacob Zachar) know horror movies. The jock (Max Adler) wears a generic 87 jersey and talks about outrunning the weaker members of the team – which means we know he will be an early victim. There is the cheerleader (Christa B. Allen) and the goth girl, Willow, (Alexa Nikolas). These actors do their best to break out of the caricature, but the writing doesn’t give them a ton of leeway.

Similarly, the plot points are the stuff of standard zombie shtick. There is the person who gets bit in a major way but takes too long to turn. There is the guy who gets bit in a minor way, but his wound takes a long time to fester before turning him. The heroes lock themselves away and watch the zombies, and a character sacrifices themselves to avoid having to bear witness to their own turning. Similarly, a bit about the cheerleader discussing the hypocrisy of male-female standards of sexuality feels cliche. When she talks about why she is the way she is it feels hollow. In fact, when all these characters reveal their secrets, the false emotion rings hollow though, again, the writing does these willing actors no justice.

Most noticably, a seen which wants desperately to be funny – involving a zombie hand grabbing a guy’s crotch – goes three or four levels deep trying to be funny. It takes several minutes of movie time, but the gag was never funny enough to work in the first place, let alone trying to build humor bit by bit.

One area which works is Ash’s keeping of a zombie head which is alive but has no power to do anything dangerous. All the stuff Willow does works. In a movie of actors trying to work through weak material, Alexa Nikolas’ Willow is the one who consistently works above the words with strong emotional presence. There aren’t a ton of further points to compliment in terms of story, but the delay in offing the obvious victims helps develop the characters and showcase some decent actors (again… with the caveat that the writing isn’t great).

So the experience is greater than the sum of the mostly goofy parts. The directing and character work is endearing enough to forgive a weak screenplay. Ultimately, the experience of DETENTION OF THE DEAD is a positive one, even if this is very obviously a small scale indie film.

SCORES

FILM: 4; MOVIE: 8; ACTING: 6; WRITING: 3: BONUS: 1

BONUS: The music both a minimalist score and some indie rock, does a good job of consistently heightening moments within the film. I enjoyed the selections immensely.

4+8+6+3+1=22

FINAL SCORE: 5.5 out of 10

 

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~ by johnlink00 on February 7, 2015.

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