Review: Detention of the Dead (2012)

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Cast: Jacob Zachar, Alexa Nikolas, Christa B. Allen
Director: Alex Craig Mann
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy | Horror
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Detention of the Dead opens in limited release tomorrow, June 28th, and is available now on VOD.

The point of counterprogramming in cinema releases, usually, is to offer a polar opposite to the major blockbusters, to appease those few small corners of the audience not interested in the new movies that have everyone else talking. It’s strange, then, to see the distinctly low-budget Detention of the Dead put up against World War Z: counterprogramming within a particular subgenre is a peculiar thing. But then the two films, their zombie-centric conceits aside, could hardly be more different, the latter’s global sprawl a vast alternative to the intimate after-school setting of the former.

Detention of the Dead, it gradually transpires, is not so much indebted to Hughes as it is dependent upon him; Mann does little more with this debut feature than remake The Breakfast Club against the backdrop of a zombie outbreak, using the generic framework of the Romero films as simply an abstraction to mask the directness of this adaptation.

detention_of_the_dead_2012_3As much indebted to the work of John Hughes as to the George Romero classics to which its name so proudly nods, Detention of the Dead borrows the basic structure of The Breakfast Club in forcing together representative students from various strands of life. There are all the typical cliché characters: the nerd; the jock; the stoner; the cheerleader; the goth. Like Hughes before him, writer/director Alex Craig Mann uses these archetypal figures as conduits to a deeper character study, paring back the typical assumptions that come with each distinct social grouping to reveal the inherent underlying similarities between them.

Detention of the Dead, it gradually transpires, is not so much indebted to Hughes as it is dependent upon him; Mann does little more with this debut feature than remake The Breakfast Club against the backdrop of a zombie outbreak, using the generic framework of the Romero films as simply an abstraction to mask the directness of this adaptation. The undead, really, serve little purpose here beyond filling the shoes of Richard Vernon, constituting a reason for the kids to remain trapped together in a single room. It’s a shame to see Romero so clearly aped without any apparent appreciation of the way he used such outbreaks as the catalyst to social comment. Even Shaun of the Dead, offhand and irreverent as it was, used its zombies—as well as for comic purposes—to talk about friendship. Detention, meanwhile, just sees them as a convenient contrivance, and an occasional excuse for some decadent bloodshed.

hey finish the film, as indeed we do, having learned little about themselves or each other. Maybe it’s just because there is so little to learn, so little real humanity beneath the respective uniforms of social substrata.

detention_of_the_dead_2012_4Perhaps it’s unfair to hold a horror comedy to the standards of Shaun of the Dead, certainly one of the genre’s most iconic and accomplished works. But even a lesser Romero-inspired entry like last year’s Juan of the Dead managed alongside its liberal goriness and flippant humour to actually say something. Detention mistakenly thinks it can get away with just borrowing Hughes’ thematic exploration and dressing it up in buckets of blood. Not so: Mann has neither the witty warmth nor depth of drama of a great writer like Hughes, and his characters haven’t the definition to transcend the stereotypical roles in which they are initially cast. They finish the film, as indeed we do, having learned little about themselves or each other. Maybe it’s just because there is so little to learn, so little real humanity beneath the respective uniforms of social substrata.

How tiresome a film is Detention of the Dead, its baseless sense of character as frustrating as is its general dearth of substantial comedy. Particularly in the exhausted humour of its stoner and jock characters can we see the sorry laziness of Mann’s humour, the lack of imagination to his wit. His is not a movie that fails to raise laughs—not all the time at least—but even those it does come with a side dish of guilt, a sense of disappointment at falling victim to so cheap and obvious a gag. That’s the film in a nutshell really, playing out in the easiest, most expected way there is, sticking to formula even as it tries to shake it up, following protocol even as the undead bang down the doors.

[notification type=”star”]38/100 ~ AWFUL. How tiresome a film is Detention of the Dead, its baseless sense of character as frustrating as is its general dearth of substantial comedy.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.