NBFF Review: Detention Of The Dead

Wednesday night, May 2, 2012, at the Newport Beach Film Festival gave me the chance to see something different for a change.  As opposed to another independent comedy/drama (which was the type of film I saw at the next screening), the film I was able to catch a showing of was Detention of the Dead, a horror-comedy about high school students caught up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.  The film is very lighthearted, playing out as a riff on both The Breakfast Club and Shaun of the Dead, even though it never quite reaches those levels.  Still, the film is a fun enough watch that is very cute overall, in a gore-filled, dumb comedy sort of way.  It does not really add much to the genre, but it’s a fun little ode to the joy of seeing zombie movies.

The film is setup pretty quickly.  We are introduced to five teens, who are supposed to be serving time in detention.  They include the geek, Eddie (Jacob Zachar); the jock, Brad (Jayson Blair); the cheerleader, Janet (Christa B. Allen); Brad’s jock friend, Jimmy (Max Adler); the goth girl, Willow (Alexa Nikolas); and the stoner kid, Ash (Justin Chon).  As detention gets started, the group notices that one guy in the corner isn’t looking so good.  He reveals a giant wound on his hand and soon enough, he turns into a zombie and bites the English teacher, monitoring detention.  Everyone is understandable shocked and even more so once they look outside and see that the school is being overrun with zombies.  Despite the differences seen between the different characters in this group, they are going to have to band together if they want to survive.  Luckily Eddie and Willow are zombie experts (based on movies, comics, and video games), but plenty can easily go wrong if these guys are not careful.

Getting to the main criticism I have first, the main issue I found with Detention of the Dead was the notion of setting up characters that claim to be experts in the field of zombies.  Characters like these can only be as smart as the screenwriters creating them, which tends to have a way of backfiring on how they have been setup.  Despite the film being very aware of what it is and having the characters make references to various forms of zombie lore, be it very obvious or more subtle, there are still choices made that reflect poorly on people like Eddie and Willow, when it comes time to making the right call.  I am very aware that the movie does not strive to be very serious, but I still took issue with things that one clearly wouldn’t do were they to be actually stuck in a zombie apocalypse and have full knowledge of that scenario, based on the various forms of zombie media the characters are supposedly obsessed with.

Getting back to the positive aspects, Detention of the Dead is apparently based on a play by Rob Rinow, which is supposed to rely on more of a sketch comedy-type structure.  Because of that, I can admire the way this film has ended up working, for the most part, as a narrative driven feature that contains various bits of comedy set pieces scattered throughout.  The story is incredibly straight-forward and does not really contain any surprises, but it creates a solid enough base and brings in the purposefully stock character-types to form a feature that plays out in an entertaining enough manner.

The characters in this film really do fall straight into the molds of the standard characters one expects to see in this kind of film.  After Cabin in the Woods, it is especially difficult to really accept what is being portrayed, but given that the film is coming from an independent world and seeks to simply be a breezy comedy filled with zombies, I was able to go along with it well enough.  It helps that the cast featured a decently fun group of individuals, with some working better than others (the stoner was annoying, but I enjoyed the over the top antics of Brad and the character of Willow in general).

It also helps that the film does well when deciding to be about zombies.  While the film is definitely a comedy at its undead core, there is plenty done here with gore to satisfy the fans of zombie movies who want to see people getting ripped apart or dismembered.  Especially given that the film was shot on a low budget, I was impressed with the makeup work and the sound effects used to convey deadly flesh-eaters taking over a school and devouring teachers and students alike.  I was also pleased that Detention of the Dead was smart enough to follow along with the “Romero Rules” when it came to handling the zombies.  They were slow moving, but deadly; and when people were bitten, they came back as zombies.  These are small details, but as a zombie fan myself, I was happy to see these choices made in the process.

Furthermore, I enjoyed the soundtrack and overall style of filmmaking.  The way certain songs were juxtaposed over the action occurring on screen was nicely handled and kept me entertained.  There were also bits of editing that worked for me, such as some of the rapid-fire cutting that occurred, which was of course calling back to The Evil Dead films, which I love.  And lastly, again, when being treated as a zombie film, as opposed to a straight comedy, there were ways in which the film felt appropriately lit and shot to feel like an actual creepy zombie movie.  This certainly is not a scary film, but it did know how to establish some suspense during a couple moments of peril.

Detention of the Dead is a very light film, which does not take itself seriously.  The characters are very deliberately designed to function a certain way.  The story is crafted to be just enough to allow the film to progress down a linear path.  And even some of the humor can be hit or miss.  Still, the film is also quite likable and features some pretty solid zombie effects work, given the independent nature of the film.  There is not much greater depth to be found here, but it is an easy enough way to spend 90 minutes, were one to be seeking an amusing zombie comedy.

Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website, and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week for more of my coverage of the festival!

Here is the trailer for Detention of the Dead:


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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