Kaboom (Greg Araki, 2010)

A wiggy, trippy, sci-fi fantasy from Araki. This review contains spoilers.

I very much enjoyed Araki’s earlier film Mysterious Skin (2004), an unsettling tale of the lives of two young men sexually abused as children, adapted from a 1996 novel by Scott Heim. I haven’t seen any of the films in his so-called “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy”; namely Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere, but if they’re anything at all like the headrush that is Kaboom, I’ll be rushing out to rent them.

Kaboom (from an original screenplay by Araki) tells the story of Smith, a freshman hipster of “undeclared” sexuality, in college doing Film Studies and away from home for the first time. Needless to say he’s enjoying all that campus life has to offer with his sharp-talking lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennet), and his new forthright bedroom buddy London (Juno Temple).  In between impromptu sessions with London, Smith secretly lusts after his stoner-surfer room-mate Thor (Chris Zylka), who likes to lounge around naked, when not preening in front of the bathroom mirror.

Anyway, so far, so average(ish) American teen college movie – until Smith (Thomas Dekker) goes to a campus party, eats some hallucinogenic biscuits and thinks he witnesses a murder, which seems to relate to a recurring dream he’s been having. This then leads to him receiving mysterious messages, being pursued by black-clad men in animal masks, and discovering a cult called The New Order, who are happily working towards Earth’s annihilation and which may or may not be led by his seemingly deceased father. None of which stops Smith from routinely getting it on with London, fantasising about Thor and having it hot and heavy with a friendly hot-tub designer he meets down at the nude beach.

As you can probably guess from the synopsis above, this is all good, if not so clean, fun. Araki manages to pull off a sci-fi-teen-apocalyptic movie, which drops cultural references as often as characters drop their underwear. The film is also laced with great one liners (“You just said he was putting a load in some pinheads dryer last night”) which Haley Bennet as Stella,seems to get the majority of. It also has great self-referential fun with itself. When Smith (Smith/New Order – see what he’s done there?) asks Stella is she’s heard of The New Order she replies, “The seminal 1980s new wave band?” Har har.  Keeping up with the references, there’s also an appearance from James Duval, who played Frank in Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (hence the animal mask connection).

Reminiscent of both Donnie Darko and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks in tone, Kaboom also incorporates elements of Nouvelle Vague, daytime soaps, teen tv shows and (probably) gay porn into its visual template to produce a slick, hyper-real look. The actors play it straight and sincere, while the narrative moves between hallucinations, flashbacks and the present, giving the film a trippy, stoned quality. The film is, to borrow a line from Stella, “nuttier than squirrel shit”, but it’s also great fun.

Kaboom is showing at the IFI until Thursday, June 23rd. You can watch a trailer here

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