Detention of the Dead (2012) d. Mann, Alex Craig (USA)
From the title alone, you know if this is your particular flavor of undead gutmuncher. Working alongside director Mann, Rob Rinow adapts his stage play for the screen and earns deserved kudos for opening it up beyond its primary library confines. But where the film is lacking is in its lack of ambition – the elevator pitch of “The Breakfast Club meets Shaun of the Dead” is all good and fine, and the two adapters meet the mashup requirements with gusto, but it never achieves the heart of either of its inspirations, content with spoofing without innovating. (The lackluster tagline of "When there is no more room in Hell, the Dead go to Detention" is indicative of the no-net play in store.)
The good news is that Mann has peopled his cast with capable performers who lend some welcome personality to the (intentionally?) thinly drawn stereotypes. Jacob Zachar plays our unlikely nerd hero, ably matched by cool goth girl Alexa Nikolas. Preening screaming cheerleader Christa B. Allen wants her ROTC candidate boyfriend Jayson Blair to defend her, while stoner Justin Chon and jock Max Adler just want to board and bash another day. Predictably, these disparate characters with their inherent share of conflicts ultimately band together against the common enemy shambling the hallways, but there’s plenty of time taken for each character to reveal they are more than meets the eye. In some cases this works, but we hear more quip-heavy jabbering than is necessary or desired whilst waiting for the next undead insurgence.
My biggest problems with the film are twofold. For starters, it has a terminal case of the insider cutes. All the students are named after horror characters (Ash, Brad, Janet, Eddie, Willow, etc.) and they hole up in – wait for it – the Savini Library. Wah-Wah. Zachar and Nikolas, being the “weirdo outsiders,” are of course the resident zombie geeks well versed in the genre tropes. (Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have the jock or the cheerleader know a few things?) But more importantly, in spite of special effects designers Daniel Aaron Phillips and Troy Holbrook’s best sanguinary efforts (and there are some ghastly grinners in the mix), the film is toothless, lacking any lasting impact.
Detention is fun in a very generic way, and for that it serves as a more-than-competent time-waster, but sitcom humor and paper-thin machinations are all Mann really seems capable and/or willing to offer. In an overcrowded field like the zombie subgenre, this horror fan is hungry for more than just efficiently polished filmmaking and half-hearted homage.