Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Weekend Detention Becomes a Death Sentence in Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012)
When a movie opens with a SWAT team bursting into a school library to find a teenager holding a bloody fire ax and surrounded by corpses--one of which being so fresh that it hasn't even collapsed to the floor yet--you know you're in for something different. Such is the case of Bad Kids Go to Hell, a 2012 movie that was directed and co-written by Matthew Spradlin. Spradlin based this movie on his best-selling graphic novel of the same name; however, because I haven't read the graphic novel yet, I can't say how faithful the movie is to its source material and which one is better.
After its jarring first scene, Bad Kids Go to Hell goes back eight hours to when six students at Crestview Academy, an upper-class private school, arrive for a day-long session of Saturday detention in their school's library. When one of them suddenly dies under suspicious circumstances, the other students begin to fear for their own lives. Is there a killer in their midst, or is something else afoot that's orchestrating their collective demise?
While I was watching Bad Kids Go to Hell, I had a tough time pinning down what kind of movie it wanted to be. It has plenty of horrific scenes and imagery, although it does not have the mood of a horror film; it doesn't take itself too seriously, but it's neither a comedy nor a horror film parody either. After seeing the final scenes, what I can say it that it is an extremely misanthropic and dark humored morality play. Many have viewed this film as a horror genre version of The Breakfast Club (1985), but its overtly sardonic attitude toward its story and characters puts it in the same class as another 80s teen movie, Heathers (1988).
What impressed me the most about this movie is its plot adheres to standard teen horror conventions, and then twists them around to the point where you’re not completely sure of what to expect. Like most teen horror films, the kids who are promiscuous, drink alcohol and do drugs wind up dead in one way or another; however, unlike most teen horror films that keep their characters and plots simple, Bad Kids Go to Hell provides plenty of background details (both explicit and subtle, and through dialog, flashbacks and visual cues) about how the characters connect to each other and the school's own sinister history, and how these relationships set the stage for what happens during Saturday detention. Watching Bad Kids Go to Hell is like watching an elaborate, Rube Goldberg story configuration click together sequentially, plot point by plot point, to deliver a gleefully pitch-black ending. Sure, some of the subplots feel unnecessarily convoluted and not all of the jokes hit their marks, but rarely have I ever seen such an elaborate contraption in the service of such morbid and cynical humor. When I say that this film is cynical, I cannot stress it enough; in fact, even though it looks and feels like a teen movie, this film is so cynical that I doubt most teens would fully understand or appreciate what it is trying to do.
Bad Kids Go to Hell isn't a flawless film; I've seen better blends of horror and comedy than this one, and it's not nearly as ambitious or insane as another recent offbeat teen film, Detention (2012). Then again, I love grim-humored satire that proudly wears its cynicism on its sleeve, so I enjoyed watching this movie even if it doesn't completely work. If you like that kind of humor too, then you should give Bad Kids Go to Hell a look.