Dir. Gregg Araki

Director Gregg Araki has never been one to shy away from controversial subject matter. His work usually explores the dark side of teenage life, where bad things happen ‘unexpectedly' and the lines between life and death, reality and nightmare are increasingly blurred. As a director he lingers somewhere between amateur and auteur. His 2005 film Mysterious Skin looked at sexual abuse and its aftermath through the eyes of two teenage boys – one of whom is convinced he is the victim of alien abduction. The Doom Generation was a gloomy, ultra-violent and nihilistic 'Generation X' for the soulless Nineties. His work usually features various depictions of the apocalypse as an almost mundane, matter of fact event and drugged-out characters wander through hyper-retro candy-coloured sets and broodingly dark cityscapes.

His latest film, Kaboom is a fantastical, mind-altering, sex-charged romp through the fickle world of college life that gradually morphs into an increasingly oddball, horror-tinged and absurd story about the onset of a global nuclear holocaust brought about by a sinister cult. Part comedy, part horror, part sci-fi, the range of tones Araki adopts throughout this head-melter shouldn’t really work, though everything holds together well enough to form an off-kilter and intoxicating film that is anything but boring.

The lives of Smith (Thomas Dekker), his arty, sarcastic best friend Stella (Haley Bennett), kooky free spirit London (Juno Temple) and pretty but dim surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) are turned upside when Smith is convinced, while tripping on hallucinogenic cookies he ate at a party no less, that he has witnessed the brutal murder of an enigmatic red-haired woman he’s seen before in his dreams. His investigation leads him deeper into a sinister mystery that looks set to alter not only his own life, but the destiny of the entire world.

Rather unfortunately, the intriguing central premise all too soon falls into the background and becomes a mere backdrop, and the narrative is propelled by various sex scenes in which Araki’s characters get intimate with each other while discussing everything from pop culture to the meaning of life. Cue much bed-hopping between couples and copious close-up shots of ecstatic faces during orgasm. The colourful and dysfunctional characters are typical of those who inhabit Araki’s film work; disaffected, bored, tedious and cynical; they indulge in copious amounts of drugs and sex while waxing lyrical about the state of the world. While Araki’s attempts to flesh out his creations are admirable, Kaboom might have benefitted from more attention to the story. When the central mystery eventually comes to the fore and Araki builds a fair degree of tension rather seamlessly, it’s all arguably too little, too late, as the film suddenly ends in a moment that will make some audiences feel utterly cheated and others – maybe those more familiar with the director’s bleak, absurdist humour – just smile wryly.

The ethereal score by ex-Cocteau Twins member Robin Guthrie and Austrian ambient-electronic composer Ulrich Schnauss is suitably moody and swirls throughout the movie headily, enhancing the tripped-out, hallucinogenic feel.

Araki’s meshing of sci-fi, horror, Queer cinema, road movies, dark drama, full on sex, magic-realism and quasi-religious foreboding may not be everyone’s bag – especially as it all feels so detached – but those seeking genuine oddness with humour by turns both madcap and absurd, may find what they seek in this spaced out oddity.


Jenn said…
Hi James! I do rather like Araki's films, although many of them, if you watch them these days, seems really really dated. I can't wait to watch this! It seems a return to form from his most recent SMILEY FACE, which I also really enjoyed.

Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I didn't know he had directed and released another film.
Aaron said…
Before watching this, I wasn't very familiar with Araki's stuff. I saw DOOM GENERATION on TV way back in the day and am very much aware of the type of filmmaker Araki is, but that's about it. I sought this one out because it stars Roxanne Mesquida from SHEITAN and RUBBER, so needless to say I was in for a surprise as I was both very entertained with the film and visually assaulted to a certain extent (I mean that in a good way). I loved the style of the film and I liked how it was all over the place in that respect, almost refusing to be lumped into a specific genre but keeping a comedic tone throughout. I have to say, though, the ending was a mess, which you sort of touched on in your review.
James Gracey said…
Glad to be of service Jenn! I had no idea Smiley Face was an Araki film until I caught it on TV one night - I really liked it, but it seemed so different to everything else of his I'd seen. Watching Kaboom really made me want to check out The Doom Generation and Mysterious Skin again. I remember The Doom Generation looking really dark and dated at the time - really adds to its tone though I reckon.

@Aaron - Did Roxanne Mesquida play the witch in Kaboom? I haven't seen Rubber yet - but it is high on my list of priorities!
Kaboom really only seemed to hit its stride before the ending when everything felt it was really leading somewhere exciting. I don't think it was so a much a cop out though than typical of Araki's sense of humour. But yeah, arguably a total mess! But a rather funny one at that. :)
Aaron said…
Yep, that was her. She's a very boring (and arguably terrible) actress, but I watch anything she's in because she's pretty. Very curious to hear your thoughts on RUBBER. I seem to be in a small group of people who actually like it.
James Gracey said…
I was actually supposed to go check out Rubber at this year's Belfast Film Festival - it only had a limited run (like one night) in a local indie theatre. I've heard good things about it though!
i have watched araki previous film with mysterious skin being my favourite..havent watched this film yet...maybe i should give it a try
James Gracey said…
If you're a fan of Araki's other films, you'll probably dig it. It isn't as good as I remember Mysterious Skin to be - but it's playful, bonkers and odd as hell. Enjoy!

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