Despite being one of the more eye-popping talents in the music video world, Joseph Kahn’s feature debut, “Torque,” seemed to go over the heads of audiences and critics.
A biker-burlesque show that amped the conventions of “The Fast & the Furious” and its pretenders into outer space, it was mistaken for the most ridiculous example of that type of film.
That’s not to say that “Torque” is some brilliant genre satire, so much as it is a misunderstood one, which speaks favorably of its effectiveness.
Kahn’s return to feature filmmaking is “Detention,” a quasi-slasher movie that travels at the speed of a bullet through the rotten rapid-fire synapses of pop-culture’s brain. A group of high school students find themselves in peril as one of their own is emulating a movie slasher villain, Cinderhella, and picking them off one as they endure Saturday detention.
They also find themselves traveling through time inside a bear, battling hipster muggers, acid-spitting jocks with fly wings, and encountering UFOs. Summing up the plot accurately would really sound a lot like a kid babbling through a checklist of insane events, liberally punctuated with “and then” in between.
Like “Torque,” “Detention” is so immersed in its subject that one could be forgiven for completely dismissing it. While “Detention” doesn’t fall into this category, the post-modern slasher movie it initially smells like is a dull concept at this point, and many genre films today in general pack themselves with references to show you how smart they are.
It’s gotten to the point where taking a post-modern approach in genre filmmaking is, more often than not, an act of artistic cowardice, with the artist putting himself at a comfortably-smug distance from the material. Embracing genre with both arms is a vulnerable position, whereas one can feel smart and smirk along with the audience if they choose to simply mock their material.
In her review of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo,” Pauline Kael declared that “ironic detachment is our saving grace,” mistaking Toshiro Mifune’s twitchy swagger for an undermining of the John Ford school of heroism, unaware that Ford was one of Kurosawa’s primary influences.
If modern cinema is any indicator, ironic detachment isn’t a saving grace, so much as an elaborate form of poisonous intellectual masturbation. It makes you feel smart, but there is no wisdom to be found in it.
Thankfully there is more going on in Kahn’s ADD-riddled universe than run-of-the-mill genre-undermining grandstanding. “Detention” initially comes off as insufferably smug, but embracing his concept with a shot of Red Bull and a handful of shrooms is Kahn’s M.O.
It’s a hyperactive experience in a world that isn’t informed by pop-culture, so much as it is dominated by it, making it a frighteningly juvenile experience. Brimming with grating teenage sarcasm, “Detention” pinballs from event to event with the casual carelessness of a scrolling Twitter feed. Something as horrible as a brutal act of murder elicits mild interest before the narrative moves onto something else.
It lives and breathes its technology-addicted teen mindset without blinking, so much so that I initially couldn’t tell if it I loathed the film, or the ugly face of what pop culture has wrought that it exposes.
What Kahn has concocted is a film I can’t stand, yet admire greatly. The best satire is the kind that blends in with what it is critiquing, which is exactly where “Torque” was coming from. “Detention” does the same thing, looking like a grotesque post-modern teenage horror mash-up, while it shreds pop-culture under the surface.
Other Noteworthy Releases
“The Whisperer in the Darkness”: A silent adaptation of one of my favorite H.P. Lovecraft short stories, made by the folks who made the excellent “Call of Cthulhu” film a few years back.
“Total Recall”: Just in time for the sans-Arnold remake, the last Blu-ray release contained a poor transfer, so hopefully this double-dip will rectify those problems.
Available on Blu-ray
“Hatfields & McCoys”: The cast alone piques my interest, and there was certainly a lot of hype surrounding this History Channel film. Is it worth the fuss?
“La Grande Illusion”: The Criterion edition of this Jean Renior classic has long since gone out of print, but Studio Canal has revived it on their label, and on Blu-ray no less.
Available on Blu-ray
“Le Havre“: The latest eccentric comedy from Aki Kaurismäki. I can’t speak for “Le Havre,” but if you haven’t seen his wacky rock n’ roll road movie “Leningrad Cowboys Go America,” treat yourself and do so.