REVIEW: Kaboom [2011]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 86 minutes | Release Date: January 26th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: IFC Films
Director(s): Gregg Araki
Writer(s): Gregg Araki

“Are you, like, gay or whatever too, or, like, normal?”

Using a soundtrack as the score to a generation’s penchant for drugs, sex, and enlightenment, Gregg Araki’s Kaboom portrays a college of liberated psyches running wild to the sounds of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Cut Copy, The xx, and Interpol. It’s a collection of music that can define the new century’s beginning—one ruled by a youth without borders, without limitations, and without fear. But the songs don’t blare over the visuals, the characters don’t make blatant reference to them—besides an Explosions in the Sky mention that culminates in a birthday gift no one but a fan of the band will understand from their album art’s lack of title—they just exist as a backdrop to the trippy story of sexual creatures and the mysterious chaotic apocalypse forewarned. Not until I heard Paul Banks’s voice emanating behind the dialogue did I realize how impressive the soundtrack was, making me very sad to find it has not been released for purchase. Luckily the film is an intriguing enough journey to risk falling into its colors, orgasms, and noir to listen again.

Only knowing Araki’s film Mysterious Skin, this new work is an interesting departure into a stylized world of artifice. The characters inhabiting it are all real enough, but with glimpses of the weird and unexplainable above the simple fact each is exploring his or her sexuality on both teams, never letting appearances or preconceptions deceive. After commencing with an odd dream on behalf of Smith, our guide into the insanity played by Thomas Dekker, about a long corridor leading towards a black door, important figures in his life inhabiting its length along with two girls he has yet to meet, the inclusion of witchcraft, telepathy, and cryptic riddles shouldn’t surprise. Smith is unceremoniously thrust into a rabbit hole orchestrated by powers he has yet to fathom, let alone understand. As his stoned RA The Messiah (James Duval) humorously relays from a dream, the world is about to explode in a massive nuclear cleansing and both Smith and best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) will be there. Mushroom clouds of toxic energy loom as explosions of pleasure erupt in the present—Smith’s forthcoming 19th birthday and the 19 on his dream’s black door an unavoidable time marker for the end of days.

The visual style set forth is one to arouse your senses and put you into proximity with beings stuck in intermission, the four year hiatus to screw around and make mistakes before life begins on the other side. Stella finds a lesbian soul mate of pleasure in Roxane Mesquida’s supernatural Lorelei; Smith pines over his surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), desires the shy Oliver (Brennan Mejia) after crossing paths at a party, and finds a surprising connection with the British enigma London (Juno Temple) and her utter candidness with the cathartic powers of sex. It’s a fashion frenzy of hats, colors, and ‘beautiful people’ existing to hook-up and attempt to finish school with a modicum of educational success. The use of high-style sarcasm in the witty banter and insults like, “Wow, next to putting a dick in your mouth with Lady Gaga playing in the background, that’s as gay as it gets,” as well as mind-altering effects work when Smith is under the influence or when black magic performed, the cheese is somehow subverted by its absolute believability in the environment created. Besides bad Powerpoint-esque transitional wipes, the director’s hand welcomely enhances the story.

But that story does surround a young man, troubled in finding something besides a yearning to make his sexual partners melt in his arms—men or women—becoming embroiled in a mystery that may or may not be playing out in the delusional landscape of his mind, so it fits. After receiving a note with the words “You are the chosen son” printed on it, his every move begins to hold a chilling weight of lingering doom. He witnesses a murder, is chased by an animal mask wearing trio of thugs, and keeps seeing the face of a stern looking older man in his dreams, a man who appears to wield the power to be behind everything happening. The detective work to solve this unknown thread of danger, though, runs parallel to the usual clutter of an 18-year old life’s ups and downs. Friendships, casual encounters, and sexual trysts would normally be those instances that hold more importance than they are worth to people with a lack of having truly lived to open one’s eyes to the more intellectual side of being, but here are riddled with the occult and fantasy.

So, as the story unfolds, you begin to question which half of the tale is more important, later discovering both exist in tandem as stunning revelations are uncovered and the line of full-on absurdity that has been straddled is obliterated and replaced by Araki’s dark psychotropic trip. And that is Kaboom’s greatest success; it’s fearlessness to go towards territory that risks turning off the greater part of the population. Except I doubt the mainstream portion of society would give it a chance anyway once they read about its homosexuality or glorification of promiscuity and recreational drug use. Those are definitely traits targeted at a specific demographic willing to put aside societal restraints and moral codes of decency for the chance to go inside an artistic mind’s tapestried pleasure center. The performances all seem to agree as well, each actor adding a tinge of parody to their roles so as to exist in the not-so-real setting of the film. But within that strangeness lies a truth, a common ground anyone of college age at present or a decade removed can relate to. It’s a paranoia-induced emblem of a generation and definitely sits nicely beside other such opuses like Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko and Southland Tales.

[1] Juno Temple, Thomas Dekker, and Haley Bennett in Greg Araki’s Kaboom. Photo by Marianne Williams. An IFC Films release. Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.
[2] Juno Temple and Thomas Dekker in Greg Araki’s Kaboom. Photo by Marianne Williams. An IFC Films release. Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.
[3] Thomas Dekker in Greg Araki’s Kaboom. Photo by Marianne Williams. An IFC Films release. Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.

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