I must confess I don’t know all of Gregg Araki’s work, but was blown away by his adaptation of Scott Heim’s ‘Mysterious Skin’. ‘Kaboom’ appears more of a return to his cult roots, and what a return it is. Drug addled realities, huge amounts of sex between extremely hot actors and preposterous conspiracy theories. What more could you ask for, particularly with a lead actor as hot as Thomas Dekker (I may return to this)? Nothing as far as I’m concerned – this is a definitive gay cult film for the early 21st century.
Dekker (‘Heroes’/'Sarah Connor Chronicles’) plays Smith, an 18 year old gay student who refuses to self-define as such, but gets around. He lusts after his impossibly beautiful surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zykla), gossips with his sarcastic lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) and shags much of what moves – men, women, it’s all the same to him at the end of the day. One night he eats a drug laced cookie at a party and sleeps with the redoubtable London (Juno Temple); he also appears to see the violent murder of the Red Haired Girl. Or does he? Who are the animal masked men?
With this film Araki has a lot to say about the current generation (although he’s also admitted ‘Kaboom’ is a semi-biographical work as well). Smith has sex with the outrageously well-built & hot Hunter (Jason Olive) whilst on a nudist beach, is pursued by the cute Oliver (Brennan Mejia) and is desired by pretty much everyone; he’s equanimous about whom he beds as long as they’re cool. He studies film for no clear reason at all, but loves his indie music (a personal obsession of Araki’s) and only finds a hint of true intimacy with London. The writer/director has even more of a snipe at lesbian culture, suggesting (or does he?) Stella’s one conquest is an actual witch, and he peppers his highly sexualised teen drama with these odd contradictions. Smith’s obsession with the Red Haired Girl walks the film uncomfortably through this murky world, albeit without much purpose until the film’s final act.
Of course Araki peppers the film with his other personal obsessions – what is the cult of the animal masked men and what do they want? Why does Smith keep appearing to be able to see elements of his future? What starts out as a teen drama veers towards a vicious, self-satirising black comedy with bitingly incisive wit. Stella attacks public figures like Clay Aiken, Mel Gibson, Lady Gaga, and gay people in general, with even Smith acknowledging ‘strange seems to be the new normal’. Araki wraps his characters in a 90210-esque pastel coloured world, but it becomes increasingly paranoid – Smith and Oliver never get it on, Smith gets attacked and robbed in his dorm room by an assailant who might just be imaginary, and asks too late if Hunter has safer sex, whilst continually being pursued by the animal masked men just out of the edge of his consciousness. Araki has no shame in suddenly changing perspective, and when he breaks out fully into black comedy the film takes on an entirely different and in many ways deeper significance: are all these relationships for naught?
As the writer/director points out earlier in the film, film studies student Smith may be completely wasting his time in education by studying an art form which has a limited shelf life, and Araki hints very strongly that there’s no point to anything. It’s quite an achievement to wrap nihilism in light hearted sexuality, which keeps it very light, enjoyable and entertaining from the outset. It may become very Twin Peaks-esque but it’s also very funny – the Red Haired Girl changes persona and identity more than once as the film races through its various acts, but never once does Araki lose hold of your sympathy for some terrifically drawn characters (Dekker’s Smith in particular). Cult films may or may not be your thing, but when the film starts with a full frontal nude shot of an outrageously beautiful young man, how can you go wrong? Run, don’t walk I say. I will again when it eventually hits British cinemas.
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