Kaboom (2010)

Blow Your Mind

Cult director Gregg Araki gets conspiratorial in this minor but enjoyable effort from 2010, which puts sexually fluid university student Smith (Thomas Dekker) on the trail of a clandestine cabal that might hold the secret to both his own identity and the ultimate fate of mankind — but then again it may not.

Woolly, witty, overtly sexual and self-consciously hip, Kaboom makes for an interesting companion piece to the recently released Under the Silver Lake (2018). Indeed, everything that David Robert Mitchell tried to do in his It Follows (2014) follow-up, Araki did first, backwards, and in heels — or at least with a more complex and palatable approach to sexuality than was embodied by Andrew Garfield’s skeevy, bad-smelling ladies’ man.

The Future is Calling

Now, our hero is Smith, who is more or less gay except when he’s not — but he himself eschews labels. He lusts after his surfer dude roommate, Thor (Chris Zylka, who milks the unwitting homoeroticism of bro culture for all it’s worth), but tumbles into bed with a British exchange student, London (Juno Temple). If you’re at all familiar with Araki’s oeuvre, especially his loose trilogy of Totally F***ed Up (1993), The Doom Generation (1995), and Nowhere (1997), you know to expect a whole lot of attractive young people pretty much clustered around the middle of the Kinsey scale sexing each other up and swapping droll, deadpan snarker dialogue in between trysts, and that’s exactly what we get here.

The point of difference is the introduction of science fiction and other genre elements, which come in at an oblique angle by way of Smith’s best friend, Stella (Haley Bennett), who is dating a girl, Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), who says she’s a witch and may have the mojo to back up her claim. Meanwhile, Smith is having prophetic dreams involving an animal-masked cult, which his long-absent father may be the leader of. Are they trying to bring about the end of the world? Is Smith their messiah? And what does ‘ontological void’ mean, anyway?

Sometimes they’re out to get you …

This isn’t the first time Araki has employed apocalyptic themes, but never so overtly. Still, the end of all things is no reason to take the focus off oneself, and Smith is yet another Araki character who believes that his personal angst is more important than anything else that happens to be going on at the time. And the film agrees with him. Smith’s self-absorption is seductive, and as the narrative continues, it becomes increasingly apparent that he may be onto something — he just might be the most important person in the world.

If this kind of late-adolescent navel-gazing is of little appeal, then neither will Kaboom be; solipsism is baked into its DNA. Still, it’s drily, dirtily funny, effortlessly stylish, and Araki regular James Duval turns up for an extended cameo. For fans, it’s everything you could want; newcomers may want to test the waters cautiously, though.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Travis Johnson

Kaboom is released through Wild Bunch