Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Detention of the Dead - review

2012 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

"This is so the Breakfast Club", my wife commented, "They've even taken whole scenes and lines." Now, I've not watched The Breakfast Club as back when it was released I was ten or so, and more interested in running around skidding on my knees shouting pew pew than watching teen angst ridden romantic indulgence. Then the years since I've never really felt the need to catch up; probably because that young boy grew testicles. "You should watch it, for research," she commented at the shrug of my shoulders. "But I don't have to now" I replied "because you've told me this is The Breakfast Club and this one has zombies in it." She had no reply to this of course, smiled and nodded. So... my point is, this is The Breakfast Club with zombies, and it even says so on the cover, but you're going to have to take my wife's word for it, not mine.

It's detention time and six one dimensional high school types have collided to write 'I must not be so superficial' or whatnot a hundred times. Jacob Zachar is Eddie the bullied nerd, Jayson Blair is Brad, the good looking cool popular kid who torments him, Christa B. Allen is his gorgeous blonde cheerleading girlfriend Janet, Max Adler the token jock Jimmy and Alexa Nikolas, Willow, the angst misunderstood goth chick. Each is adorned in the appropriate costume, each is replete with lines and behaviour befitting their caricature and each actor is really way too old for the high school personality they're purporting to be. Oh, I should add, there's also Justin Chon as Ash, a token stoner and a bit of a throwaway character with throw away jokes. There's something about dumbed down high school comedies that almost demands single dimension tropes and it's hard to be too critical about it all if I'm honest. Detention of the Dead knows what it's trying to do and it's an authentic parody attempt that never tries too hard to be anything other than a pop corn indulgence with characters and acting appropriate and on message.

The characters are introduced and zombies appear. Detention of the Dead to its credit doesn't dally with their appearance and plays the new post-modern zombie card that of course the high school kids are fully vested with the modern zombie zeitgeist and instantly recognise them for what they are. They know not to get bit, they know to go for the head and brain, and they know that a good barricade, or closed door will hold them back (yes they're your quite crap corpse eaters that stop their immutable creep of death at the smallest obstacle - or the budget didn't include breaking and replacing doors.) What follows is a zombie survival story with angst ridden misogynists and the me-me generation trying desperately to come to terms with the fact the zombie apocalypse might actually be more important than their own depthless problems and confused romantic troubles. 

It's light, it's airy, full of all the bright clean colours of US high school life and it never takes itself seriously.  There's plenty of infantile and throwaway jokes and dialogue, with humour and playful a constant theme to the many extravagant and gratuitous scenes of gore and flesh ripping. There's a little bit of satire scattered here and there but the narrative never tries too hard to come across clever or insightful. Director / writer Alex Craig Mann has done a more than competent job imbuing the action with a teen audience look and feel and has picked a suitably light youthful soundtrack to accompany the gut munching and high school shenanigans that never allows the pace to lull.

The zombies are Romero slow lurchers that never-the-less lunge quite quickly at times for the bite. They're well made up, though with, in my opinion excessively forced and added guttural low demonic growls; they snarl, horde, pull out intestines and generally act with all the unpleasantness you'd expect. The action starts small and insular focusing tightly on the school then expands leaving the question whether the whole world is now in trouble hanging. The manner in which the many extras stagger out about is cohesive enough for what it is and I've no real complaints with our undead chums.

Detention of the Dead is what it is, a Saturday night spectacle suitable for partners and mates with pizza on the coffee table and beer in hand. It also made a nice change to watch something openly with my wife rather than skulking off shamefully to some exploitative thirty year old nonsense I'd probably not openly to admit to liking as much as I do. Yes it's superficial, deliberately derivative and ultimately quite forgettable but never-the-less it's fun, obvious and enjoyable for all the same reasons. I've no real complaints with comedy, horror parodies such as these; they're undeniably jumping on the zombie bandwagon, uncomplicated and not particularly ambitious, but that's ok and its far better to work within your limits than try too hard and too serious. Also competently made zombie reinterpretations of, let's say, more female oriented cult classics are always welcome and it's not the first; just look at Romero & Juliet aka Warm Bodies; which actually kind of worked and it makes me wonder what might be next, Fried Green Tomatoes? Pride and Prejudice? A recommended date-night film with first rate acting, that should also satiate that zombie itch, 6/10.


1 comment:

  1. Never even heard of this one! Looks a bit like "Dance of the Dead", which was also halfway to decent. I look forward to finding this one.