Detention (1998) DVD review
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In a world where the kids are telling the teachers what to do, one insane man can make a difference...
After Miss Cooke has a heart attack, supply teacher Mr Walmsley is called in to take over a class of “future felons of America”. Left with lesson plans merely stating “read whatever”, Walmsley is unafraid of his arrogant pupils describing them “as interesting as a fever blister” and being disciplined on his first day for threatening a kid. Through Walmsely’s experiences writer-director Andy Anderson explores the hypocrisy of current morés in education, fulfilling the dreams of many abused inner-city teachers in his 1998 film, Detention.
Faced with students who call him “Mr Fuck You” and “arsehole”, Walmsley is fighting a losing battle. Witnessing a student trying to sexually assault a teacher and later hearing how the psychotic girlfriend of this pupil seriously beat the same teacher, Walmsley formulates a clever plan - “The Push Start Programme”. Almost untraceable with his empty wallet, temporary address and disinterest in collecting pay cheques, Walmsley’s early threat “you may be right but I may be crazy”, are a hint to what is to come later.
Anderson presents a school where the chain-smoking teachers are so badly treated that they’re overjoyed when they hear Walmsley is supposed to have hit a student. Lawyers attend parents’ evening, the head accepts bribery for improved grades, there are no books, and a series of ridiculously strict guidelines are imposed: “Too much eye contact with a student is prosecutable as an overt sexual advance…eight eye contacts per student per 50 minute class.” Over-protective parents have hindered the education of the majority by getting an injunction banning the use of recommended textbooks: “When you let a child use their imagination it opens the door for the devil to possess their minds”.
Accurately observing that “the lunatics are running the asylum”, restoring some sort of sanity is something Walmsley feels strongly about. Running like a two-act play, much of the earlier humour in Detention’s first “section” is so understated in its delivery it almost goes unnoticed: “When she farts, only dogs hear it”. What’s more interesting is the second half, when Walmsley puts his ingenious plan into action and becomes the sinister mastermind behind an unruly group’s accelerated learning: “I control every aspect of your life right down to whether you live or die - you'll speak in complete sentences without profanities.”
Sold as a dark comic horror, Detention is certainly dark - but less horrific. Aspects of the second half more resemble a psychological thriller, as a group of naked students are incarcerated in old electrified circus cages in the Alpine forest with far too much ball bag on display and shots of the blistering sun repeatedly shown. Emphasis on animals being ultimate recyclers who eat everything and make people disappear combined with Toni Basil’s 'Hey Mickey' playing on repeat interspersed with freaky circus music add to the psychological torture.
In Detention “Dr Skinner meets Mr Pavlov”, emphasizing the importance of a teacher's responsibility to educate and the individual’s obligation to the rest of society - discipline, self-worth and responsibility. Viscous, thought-provoking and head bending, as a twisted version of Dangerous Minds, Detention becomes genuinely captivating in its second half when the forced learning commences and Walmsley’s class enter the “Cognitive Survival State”.
Director/writer: Andy Anderson
Distributor: Pegasus Entertainment Ltd
Running Time: 110 mins
Starring: John S. Davies,
Detention is released in the UK on the 6th of December.
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