Monday, August 12, 2013

Only Misfits Await in Detention of the Dead: A Movie Review

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Director: Alex Craig Mann.

Writers: Alex Craig Mann and Rob Rinow.

Cast: Jacob Zachar, Alexa Nikolas, Christa B. Allen, Jayson Blair, Justin Chon, Max Adler, Joseph Porter and Michele Messmer.

Detention of the Dead is a throwback to films of the '80s. The Breakfast Club (1985) is especially influential in director Alex Craig Mann's first film. The characters are cliches and the zombies are far from terrifying. Instead, Detention of the Dead relies on some silly comedy and high school drama to keep the film's story interesting. But, this story might not be compelling for most film fans.

The film is set in Lincoln High School. Here, a zombie virus is ravaging the school's halls and classrooms. The stereotypical: jock (Jayson Blair), cheerleader (Christa B. Allen), nerd (Jacob Zachar), stoner (Justin Chon), goth girl (Alexa Nikolas) and jock #2 must battle their way to the library, because students never go there. The Savini Library (in joke) is a safe haven for the characters to light up and talk about the difficulties of navigating high school, which sounds like no challenge at all. Then, the zombies make their presence known (including undead rats) just in time for the climax. The story, based on Rob Rinow's play, focuses on the jokes, rather than the scares.

The characters here play up to their cliches. Though, the geek gets a lot more attention from the ladies, than one might expect. In predicable fashion, the cheerleader has problems with popularity and looking right. Wow, this sounds like an ordeal. Also, the goth girl has problems getting the attention of the guy she likes and the stoner cannot find a washroom. The conflict for the characters is very light and there are few hurdles for these characters to overcome. Thus, the players onscreen are fairly one dimensional in scope and complexity.

The story is also a little weak. The film incorporates a couple of genres: horror and comedy. But, there are very few scares here. The undead monsters seem to inhabit the periphery of the film, until the climax only. The jokes are on the juvenile scale of the spectrum. One joke involving a zombie hand on the protagonist's crotch creates for a surreal homosexual skit. And, there are fart jokes, so the comedy is fairly hit and miss. This reviewer enjoyed the zombie rat in the ducts, but the laughs are fairly sparse. The plot is a little thin, overall.

Detention of the Dead developed close to this film fan's expectations. There were few surprises. Mann's first film is an experiment that creates for some silly entertainment, which, unfortunately, becomes quickly forgettable. In the glut of zombie films on the market, Detention of the Dead is similar in budgetary scope to Joseph Kahn's Detention (2011) and Matthew Spradin's Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012). However, Mann's film does not surpass these films, nor create the flurry of inside jokes of Kahn's hilarious outing. This dramedy also does not offer enough real conflict for the characters and Detention of the Dead is more farce, than sharp commentary on the horrors of high school.

Overall: 6 out of 10 (a few good setups, zombies are not prominent until the conclusion).

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