Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Gregg Araki
Stars: Thomas Dekker, Chris Zylka, Hayley Bennett, Roxane Mesquida, Juno Temple, Kelly Lynch, James Duval.
Gregg Araki was at the forefront of the emergence of a new gay cinema in the ‘90s, with films like the nihilistic, subversive The Doom Generation, etc, and their strong homoerotic overtones. He hit a creative peak with the insightful and mature Mysterious Skin, a film about the longterm effects of child sex abuse, which gave him a taste of mainstream crossover success.
Blending murder mystery, sci-fi, the politics of sex and gender, and paranoid thriller about the possible end of the world, Kaboom is a heady, in-your-face, funny, anarchic, and frantic genre blending comedy that returns to themes and elements he explored in his unofficial teenage apocalypse trilogy. As with many of Araki’s earlier, edgier films, Kaboom is set in a familiar setting that has been given strangely ominous overtones.
Here the setting is the campus of a Californian college, where there are few rules, and everyone seems interested in casual sex. Thomas Dekker (from tv series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and the recent Nightmare On Elm Street reboot, etc) has a suitably androgynous and vulnerable look that is perfect for his role as the brooding, bi-sexual college student known only as Smith. Every night Smith is having disturbing nightmares, and then he meets some of the characters from his dreams in real life. He has a secret crush on his roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), the blonde surfer with the buffed body. His best friend is lesbian Stella (Hayley Bennett) who is involved in a dangerous relationship with the kinky and possessive Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), who is also a witch.
But at a party one night Smith thinks he has stumbled upon a murder that has links to a mysterious religious cult and a global conspiracy. Suddenly he finds himself being pursued by men in animal masks. Or are these strange events taking place purely in his head?
Araki’s films have tended to celebrate the joys of youth and sex, but here he gives the material a deliberately darker quality, with some elements seemingly reminiscent of a queer version of cult favourite Donnie Darko. That is not to say that he has altogether abandoned his sense of fun, and there are plenty of sassy one-liners and humourous observations, particularly about human nature. There are plenty of delights to be found in Kaboom provided you are on Araki’s wavelength.
Here Smith is studying cinema at college, which allows Araki plenty of room to build allusions to some classic films and directors, which knowing audiences will quickly recognise. Araki has gone for some clever casting choices that include Juno Temple, Kelly Lynch, and regular James Duval, who is almost unrecognisable in his role as dope-smoking adviser known only as The Messiah.
Araki has used bold colours to emphasise the hyper-real nature of the material, and the soundtrack is littered with alternative rock and electro-pop bands. Araki is in a more playful mood here than he has been for some time. Kaboom is not to be taken too seriously, as is evidenced by the film’s outrageous final shot, which may well have many in the audience scratching their heads in bewilderment.