Reviewed at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
“It’s nuttier than squirrel shit,” says college student Stella (Haley Bennett) at one point in Gregg Araki’s latest film, “Kaboom,” a back-to-his-roots, candy-colored cult thriller that is best described, in a similar vein, as “totally fucked up.”
Araki’s 1994 movie of that same name as well as the following years’ installments in his “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy” — “The Doom Generation” and “Nowhere” — loom large over “Kaboom,” which follows the sexual exploits and eerie adventures of one perpetually horny film student, the handsome icy blue-eyed gay-inclined Smith (Thomas Dekker).
Set in Southern California’s “College of Creative Arts” — a hyper-stylized campus of black-walled eating halls, blue-lit dorms and postmodern-windowed structures — Smith’s days are filled with pining for his hot, frequently naked and very heterosexual surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) and hanging around with sassy lesbian gal-pal Stella.
One night, they go to a party, where Smith eats some hallucinogenic cookies, and nothing is ever the same: He meets and screws (multiple times) the sprightly London (Juno Temple), and then, while walking back home, is attacked by three men in black wearing animal masks who stab and kill a red-haired female student. Was it just a bad trip, or is something truly horrible going on in Araki-land?
To clear his head, Smith decides to go a nude beach. As narrated in the film, this is actually pretty funny. The story proceeds along lines of alternating scenes of sultry sex and comedy — both gay and straight — and the unfolding of the film’s ominous, though with tongue firmly planted in cheek, conspiracy plot. While Smith tries to track down the real identity of the red-haired victim, Stella finds herself in a heated romance with Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), a vampy French beauty with supernatural sexual powers.
When Stella tries to extricate herself from Lorelei, who may be some sort of witch, weirder shit happens — a mix of frights and humor that work sometimes, and even when they don’t, it doesn’t matter much because Araki isn’t taking any of it too seriously. Like some perverse mix of ’30s screwball comedy and po-mo Gen Next webisode, comic zingers and metaphors continuously fly fast out of the character’s mouths: i.e. “as gay as Clay Aiken” and “it’s a vagina, not a bowl of spaghetti.”
So what’s it all about? Araki drops some hints: the Kinsey Scale that suggests sexual definitions are loose; absent fathers; beautiful young bodies having sex; the curious way snacks are let loose from vending machines; the irony of collapsed grand narratives.
For all of “Kaboom”s silliness, it never transcends it. Sure, some of it’s fun, and the way all the plotlines converge in a ludicrous way suggests knowing parody as opposed to contrivance. But there’s something anachronistic, even irreverent, about the film’s end-results.
That’s part of the fun, like we’ve stepped into a time machine or unearthed a ten-year-old Araki movie. But today, this apocalyptic pastiche doesn’t feel as urgent — or as subversive — as it once did. Perhaps the amusement with which we once imagined the end of the world has lost its luster in our post-9-11, post-economic-collapse epoch. Whatever the reason, “Kaboom” may end with a bang, but it feels like a whimper.
“Kaboom” is currently without U.S. distribution.
[Photos: “Kaboom,” Crispy Films, 2010]