Kaboom (Greg Araki, 2010)

by Douglas Buck February 25, 2019 4 minutes (847 words) 35mm Cinémathèque québécoise, part of the ‘Toxicos’ program

The (mostly queer) escapades of film student Smith (Thomas Dekker), who identifies his sexuality as ‘undeclared’, while lusting mainly after hot beefcake like his buff surfer dude roommate aptly named Thor (who he keeps stumbling upon doing enticingly suspicious things like wrestling around in the nude with his also self-declared straight best friend Rex, another stud of a dude, or trying to see if he can become flexible enough to perform oral sex on himself) and also occasionally jumping in the sack with London (Juno Temple), a British student with little hang-ups on having sex with and whoever she wants, and his best friend Stella (Halley Bennett), trying to desperately escape from a relationship with a dangerously unstable and possessive witch with genuine supernatural powers Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), lead down a path of increasingly scary events, including Smith having visions of a murdered girl with her head cut off, ominous dreams, shadowy figures in animal masks who keep skulking about the campus, and a mysterious message that hints at Smith himself, and even his LA hottie mom (Kelly Lynch), being possibly key figures in a cult that’s leading the entire world to deliberate nuclear disaster…

You have to hand it to filmmaker Greg Araki, he certainly isn’t afraid to follow his muse rather than worry about repeating some kind of previous success. I barely had heard of Kaboom, let alone spoken of in the glowing terms as his brilliant and meditative Mysterious Skin from just a few years before, so I wasn’t expecting much… and, man, was I in for a surprise. I mean, as can be seen by the synopsis above, it’s a wildly stimulating mishmash of kooky sci-fi, amusing supernatural horror, odd paranoia thriller, romance and queer sex comedy; it’s got a vibrantly colourful, hypnotic and erotic charge, with an underlying sense of foreboding adding an additional buzz.

While the scary animal masked figures and the confused young character lost in an unfocused mind-fuck of a maze, trying to decipher the hyper-reality around him (as well as the presence of favourite cult actor James DuVall, this time as a seemingly permanently stoned college teaching assistant known as ‘the Messiah’, who will be revealed to have secrets of his own) reminded me immediately of Richard Kelly’s art-house smash Donnie Darko …it was after careful consideration I realized it aligns even closer with Kelly’s directorial follow-up, Southland Tales, which, like Kaboom is an insanely indulgent genre mash-up of a film, sharing the sense of a filmmaker coming off critical darling success and being given a good heft of rope.

Critically savaged as it was, I hold a tremendous fondness for Kelly’s Southland Tales as a fascinating look inside the mind of a young artist struggling cinematically to make sense of an overwhelming, kaleidoscopic world filled with so much conflicting and contradictory information and stimuli, exhilarating and indulgent, yet absolutely terrifying (and one with an underlying grim awareness that the end is coming). Araki’s film seems cut from the same nihilistic clothe; though, while Kelly, far younger than Araki, feels incapable of disassociating himself from his confused characters in the telling of his tale (making it understandable why so many would turn off to his vision), Araki has the objective quality in his storytelling that aging brings (not that his was so beloved either… it just wasn’t openly despised).

The two films, in fact, would make a nice double feature (with Kelly’s vision a bit bloated at way over two hours and Araki’s too stream-lined at less than ninety minutes, with its ending coming together too fast to feel like much more than a throwaway joke) on the overwhelmed and nihilistic sensibility of so much of today’s younger generations. Committing is terrifying, especially in a shifting world of perspectives that never seems to honestly identify themselves, so what other choice than escape into indulgence?

Dekker, Bennett (with her Stella in a constant state of ironic detachment) and London are perfectly engaging performers to follow and the elements play out as very funny, clever extensions of the frenetic, schizophrenic world our entirely engaging college characters’ inhabit, namely one mired in confusion, (pan)sexual obsessions and drug taking (which I guess is how it got snuck into the CQ’s ‘Toxicos’ series, which otherwise centered around films mired in hardcore drug addiction)

The gorgeous tonal score helps create a wonderfully hypnotic mood reminiscent of the great Harold Budd/Robin Guthrie Mysterious Skin music, though even more subtly handled, with Guthrie returning to take part in it.

I saw Teenage Cocktail at Fantasia a few years back, which I liked, but can’t help feeling now that the filmmakers might have done themselves a service by learning a bit from seeing the 56 year old Araki’s vibrant — and far less moralizing — handling of early 20’s attempts to figure out the world in their own image… that is, until it all comes to a deliberately throw away literal end, when the whole shit house goes… kaboom.

Kaboom (Greg Araki, 2010)

Douglas Buck. Filmmaker. Full-time cinephile. Part-time electrical engineer. You can also follow Buck on “Buck a Review,” his film column of smart, snappy, at times irreverent reviews.

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