Directed by Gregg Araki
Written by Gregg Araki
2010, USA, France
Kaboom should be worse than it is. Much worse. 18-year-old Smith (an adequately engaging Thomas Dekker) is a film major who might be “a three or a four [out of six]” on the Kinsey scale as theorised by London (Juno Temple), a blonde nymphomaniac who becomes Smith’s booty call, amongst other more shocking associations. Being at that age during that time in one’s life, Smith spends a significant portion of his time fantasising about, experimenting with and fawning over every guy he encounters, from his thick-as-a-brick surfie roommate, Thor, to a guy he meets and does at a nude beach, to Thor’s buddy, Rex. When an other-worldly redhead girl barfs on Smith’s shoes at a party one night only to be later attacked and murdered by three masked assailants in what might or might not be a drug-fuelled dream, Smith’s sexual coming of age is suddenly entangled in a tale of intrigue featuring vengeful witches, a vision of a bright red dumpster, estranged fathers and nihilistic cults, and a certain something that is of slightly more universal significance than Smith’s getting his rocks off.
To reiterate, Kaboom should not work. That it manages to dodge such a fate is something of a minor miracle the more one thinks about it. What this film offers up is a hammily surreal end-of-the-world sci-fi murder-mystery sex comedy thriller in the trappings of an accomplished student film. This should partly explain why it is so damn surprising that American writer-director Gregg Araki’s tenth feature transcends its inherent – and very likely intentional – silliness; that it actually works on some level. For a start, Kaboom is a tub of fun. Araki and his cast are clearly enjoying themselves, and the enjoyment is contagious. There is a heady, fevered quality to the filmmaking itself: the occasional use of voiceover narration, the eye-popping colour, the cheesy transitions and the low-budget effects complement the medium-budget DIY aesthetic, all of which proves unexpectedly endearing as a whole. What’s more: the heavily tongue-in-cheek supernaturalism barely impedes the flow of proceedings, and similar can be said of the bountiful sex scenes. Add to that a soundtrack that might turn Sofia Coppola green and Kaboom turns out to be an oddly if not anachronistically decent picture. Worth noting, Haley Bennett puts in a great turn as Smith’s drolly sardonic friend Stella who is herself plagued by the girlfriend from – quite literally – hell. Credit also to Chris Zylka for his somewhat fresh take on the quintessential surf bum.
Unfortunately it’s not all pleasant surprises here. One such surprise is the film’s being awarded the first ever Queer Palm, a prize concocted by an independent jury it should be noted, and one that John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus should have probably been given. What Kaboom does for Queer Cinema or the LGBT cause is not entirely clear if at all it exists. Certainly, plaudits to Araki for the film’s sexual liberalism and for his good-humoured yet honest portrayal of all manner of sex, praise which is really akin to applauding Oliver Stone for making a Left-leaning picture. Perhaps the awarders were so enamoured of the film’s conviction that they simply had to give it something. Then there is the ending, which seems to take itself more seriously than it feels comfortable letting on. Exposition flies off the screen like a swarm of bad jokes from an early evening sitcom, none of which matters a great deal in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps it can simply be seen as a cathartic, tongue-through-cheek mishmash of all the film’s possible inspirations from Donnie Darko to David Lynch, to bad TV shows and films that spew plot points all over one’s shoes.
At the end of the day (and world) Kaboom shouldn’t work, and maybe it doesn’t, but it’s an amusing time at the movies nonetheless. Just sit back and let it do all the work.