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Detention of the Dead

2012 | R | 1.85:1

Detention of the Dead


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Theatrical release date

 21 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Detention of the Dead Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 20, 2013

There’s cheeky homage, and then there’s “Detention of the Dead.” Adapted from a play by Rob Rinow, the feature aims to induce nostalgia, chills, laughs, and tears by mixing the sensitive juvenile delinquent antics of the “The Breakfast Club” with the zombie stomp of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” trusting knowing audiences will receive a charge out of the numerous references that litter the film. Unfortunately, the opposing tones rarely complement each other, rendering “Detention of the Dead” a misfire in terms of intended buoyancy. While it features some pleasing tech credits and an engaged cast, the effort swings too wildly from sensitivity to slapstick, resulting in a disagreeably disorienting viewing experience.

It’s detention time at Lincoln High School, with goth girl Willow (Alexa Nikolas), cheerleader Janet (Christa B. Allen), her alpha male boyfriend Brad (Jayson Blair), jock Jimmy (Max Adler), stoner Ash (Justin Chon), and overachiever Eddie (Jacob Zachar) imprisoned in a classroom for a few hours under the supervision of English teacher Mrs. Rumblethorp (Michele Messmer). Also joining the group is a student who’s been bitten by a zombie, soon plunging the scene into chaos when he transforms into a member of the undead and munches on Mrs. Rumblethorp. Frantically relocating to the library, the gang attempts to dream up a plan of escape, only to find the school surrounded by monsters, leaving them to stew inside a room they’ve rarely visited. As the evening drags on, the opposites begin to attract, sharing their fears and desires, bonding as zombie attacks pick them off one by one, forcing them to fight back with the limited resources they have.

Longtime actor Alex Craig Mann makes his directorial debut with “Detention of the Dead,” and it’s engaged work from the helmer. Seeking to create a specialized atmosphere of horror and comedy, Mann approaches the material as a cartoon, employing thickly outlined high school stereotypes for characters, while treating the zombie outbreak with a great deal of gore, lingering on shredded entrails and bloody faces. The peppery tone has certainly worked for other filmmakers, with Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” mentioned frequently in the movie’s marketing materials, but it’s not an easy juggling act, requiring a special sensitivity to pace and humor that seems to elude Mann with “Detention of the Dead.” Although it earnestly attempts to manufacture a rip-roaring ride of doom and knowing laughs, the effort often comes off shrill and confused.

Rinow has manufactured a valentine to the world of jokey horror pictures with “Detention of the Dead.” Even character names are pilfered from titans in the genre, just to add more of a wink to an already highly self-aware endeavor. These are modern teenagers with an appreciation for terror films, and they easily identify the oncoming zombie problem, utilizing their wits and some cinema appreciation to dodge the hungry mouths of the undead. Rinow also makes time to celebrate John Hughes and his responsive way with adolescent concerns, recreating the famous library floor confessional scene from “The Breakfast Club” (there’s also a boredom montage and a hallway scramble) with these less enlightened characters. Ash provides the weed and the rest is a purging of self-doubt, with seemingly strait-laced Eddie admitting that his unexpected detention appearance was due to his wish to kill Mrs. Rumblethorp (who’s already been beheaded by the gang, yet still clings to growly life) when she caught the boy with prescription drugs, threatening his academic future. The other kids openly worry if he was planning to “Columbine” them. Yikes. It’s a heavy reveal, coupled with more formulaic explorations of mischaracterizations and puppy love, finding Willow the voice of reason and heartbreak as the script lumbers unadventurously through trite conflicts Hughes managed to infuse with honesty and humor. Mann merely settles on recreation, and it’s a poor one at that.

“Detention of the Dead” is messy and inconsistent. One moment the group is poignantly sharing their insecurities with one another, the next we see Eddie and Ash engaged in a phallic incident with a severed arm. There’s a pronounced amount to gore, monstrous surprises, and the use of a paper cutter to power down Mrs. Rumblethorp’s zombie transformation, and there are proclamations of love and deep-seated disappointment with the patterns of male lust. There’s fear of the future and a fart joke. The movie is like watching a tennis match, as Mann keeps jerking the tone back and forth, failing to stabilize either side. “Detention of the Dead” soon grows tiring, unable to congeal as a formidable braiding of ugliness and teen vulnerability. There’s a nice breezy quality of awareness and panic communicated by the eager cast, but the picture isn’t managed to satisfaction, fumbling jokes, breaking up soaring soundtrack cues, and generally leaning on influences instead of developing a personality of its own.

Starring: Jacob Zachar, Alexa Nikolas, Christa B. Allen, Justin Chon
Director: Alex Craig Mann

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