The first time I heard about director Gregg Araki was through the hallowed pages of Starburst when it was in print. Specifically Alan Jones’ reviews for films The Doom Generation and Nowhere; they always sounded really indie minded, shocking and anything but mainstream. This being the 1990s films were a lot harder to find back then and you didn’t have the proliferation of available delivery mediums you do now. Through a combination of BBFC censorship and Blockbuster video being the only means of getting films at the time, I sadly never saw these films. The first Gregg Araki film I saw was the acclaimed Mysterious Skin from a few years back which was a mature and moving piece but still somehow retained the independent spirit despite being his most mainstream work. His latest film Kaboom is a return to the weirdness of his earlier efforts. It seems that with Araki now entering his fifties he should perhaps concentrate on more mature works and move away from teenagers because truthfully Kaboom feels a little out of touch and like an older man riffing on more recent popular independent movies.
The film follows a young bi-sexual man by the name of Smith (Thomas Dekker) a college student who fantasizes about his surfer dude roommate. One night Smith has a dream in which he sees several people he has never met before on a path to a door with a 19 on it and a red dumpster behind it. Smith and his best friend, lesbian Stella (Hayley Bennett) go on a night out where Smith is accidentally given a hallucinogen and whilst tripping meets the object of Stella’s affection Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida) a girl who appeared in his dream. He then meets a girl named London (Juno Temple) in the bathroom and they start an affair based on casual sex. On the way back from London’s room, Smith sees a bunch of men in animal masks chasing after a girl (who was also in his dream) seemingly intent on killing her. He passes out and awakes the next morning not sure if what he experienced was real or imagined. Smith goes on an adventure that involves a conspiracy, witches, shady characters and other sexual encounters all around his nineteenth birthday and the very fate of the world.
The above synopsis is about as simple as I can make Kaboom sound. There are a number of characters that have important parts to play in the plot that I haven’t even mentioned. The film moves along very quickly with rapid fire dialogue, go to the toilet without pausing and you’ll come back with no clue what is going on. The way things unfold and what it all means is what kept me glued to the screen and whilst I was watching it, I’ll admit I had some fun. The problem is the whole thing feels very hollow. The films that Kaboom most resembles are Donnie Darko and The Rules of Attraction. It has a Donnie Darko style mind warp of a plot involving the end of the world and the youngsters sleeping around with little regard for anything (somewhat explicitly) whilst they chase the next high recalls the underrated The Rules of Attraction. As a result Kaboom doesn’t feel terribly original and is somewhat derivative of other better films.
I will say this about the film, it’s visually stunning. Every shot is well constructed with a real focus on the colours which pop out at you especially if you are lucky enough to have a good high definition TV at home. The dream and trippy sequences are well staged without resorting to ripping off other films too much. The soundtrack is also amazing, including great songs by artists like Placebo and Interpol. It’s a shame that this doesn’t seem available to purchase because it would be a great mix. Thomas Dekker making the graduation from television to films does well enough in the central role which must have presented a huge risk to the young actor. He plays a character somewhat confused and spaced out most of the time and sells this really well, drifting between encounters like a leaf on the wind. The other two standouts are actresses Hayley Bennett and Juno Temple, both playing funky chicks who it seems like would be fun to meet in real life.
I’m not sure I am the intended audience for this film but I had fun whilst watching it. It’s not something that will stay with you the way Mysterious Skin does but is enjoyable in its own derivative way. Donnie Darko remains the trippy teenage mind warp film for this generation.
Kaboom is out now on DVD/Blu-ray