Judge Brett Cullum finds out the end of the world is when everybody swings both ways.
"Aside from putting a dick in your mouth while listening to Lady Gaga, that's about as gay as it gets."
I am torn about Kaboom. On the one hand it is great to see post queer director Gregg Araki return to the familiar mayhem he used to spin out with films like The Doom Generation and Nowhere. Yet in the same breath after having seen him mature so nicely with Mysterious Skin, it seems odd for the fifty-two year old filmmaker to go back to horny college kids dealing with surreal sci-fi elements. He's made this type of film before, and it was his signature in the '90s. Still, nobody can quite match the bizarre trippy excursions into young sex bringing on the apocalypse.
Facts of the Case
Smith (Thomas Dekker, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) is a college freshman who has the hots for his straight surfer roommate (Chris Zylka, 10 Things I Hate About You). His lesbian best friend (Haley Bennett, The Haunting of Molly Hartley) has just entered a tawdry affair with a real life witch who possesses all-too-real powers, and Smith somehow ends up with a girl f**k buddy (Juno Temple, Atonement) who seems not to want much to do with him outside of the sack. All of this would be strange enough on its own, but there is also a dangerous cult in town who may be killing coeds on campus while wearing animal head masks. Oh yeah, and did I mention that this group may be headed up by Smith's long lost father? And of course, they claim that doomsday is approaching faster than anybody thinks.
This film fits thematically right in line in with Araki's earlier works including The Doom Generation, Nowhere, and Totally F**ked Up. There are tons of polymorphous sex scenes with the gay guy getting it on with a bisexual girl, the straight guy kissing a dude, and the lesbians unleashing supernatural psychic attacks on each other in and out of bed. Where the director excels is taking what could be stock character types and allowing them to have unexpected sexual fluidity few other films would be willing to show. It's a world where labels are insignificant, and that always feels refreshing. Anybody could end up with anyone sexually, and there are no rules. He's also great with putting together a relentlessly edgy soundtrack as well as making the whole thing look gorgeous in terms of lighting and art design. Araki has become a master of making his films look and feel far more hip than they are bringing to them a masterful sense of style over substance. There are tons of quotable glib one-liners and plenty of bizarre events that make dreams and reality come to question.
The film is made up of non-stop sex scenes, but they feel not-so-dirty because all of them are shot tightly so that we only see the head and shoulders of the participants. It's nowhere near as lurid as you would think coming in, and it's more about the comedy of being so obsessed with sex rather than the kick of seeing it played out in front of you. Kaboom seems to be saying that the world is ending because we're so concerned with sex that we cannot laugh it off for the small part of our lives it should occupy. It seems ironic that these kids are so enamored with the act, but never really seem to get much satisfaction out of it once it does happen. They develop a devil may care attitude about it, and yet it still manages to distract them from the apocalypse happening all around them.
The DVD transfer is sharp and well rendered. The director loves to make colors hyper-real and light scenes to the point of overexposure, so the end result often looks like a live action cartoon. The disc handles this scheme solidly with nice color levels and excellent contrast. The surround sound works really well too, and you need it for the music to have full impact. Extras include a commentary with Gregg Araki and his lead actor Thomas Dekker, deleted scenes with commentary, and a short blooper reel.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As excited as I am about the prospect of Araki continuing the film legacy he started twenty years ago, I almost wish he would find a way to get back to the impressive scope that he showed with Mysterious Skin. That movie had so much more to say about gay youth than what he is showing here. It had style and substance where Kaboom feels like a hollow chocolate bunny of the apocalypse. It mistakes style as substance all on its own. Returning to the surreal sci-fi sex comedy starring teens is so 1995, and even though he does it well it doesn't feel as fresh as it could.
Nobody can crank out boundary-defying teen sex comedy with a side of surreal sci-fi quite the way that Gregg Araki does, and for that he is a genuine icon of the queer punk indie movie scene. Kaboom gleefully plows along in the same tradition that his other cult classics established two decades ago. It feels sexy and dangerous to think that teenagers could screw just about anything even when faced with the end of the world. The film looks great and has a so-hip-it-hurts soundtrack to accompany the over-the-top visual bliss. It is pure movie mayhem, and that's where the fun comes in. The only downer is that it doesn't have too much to say, with a loosely stitched narrative that seems to have no direction other than back and forth horizontally. It's a trippy erotic dream with plenty of giggle-worthy lines, but there are no issues here to address. How long can we stay in college where sexual awakenings are endless and feel earth-shattering? Don't we have to graduate eventually into a world of real relationships and true issues? It seems that Gregg Araki thinks we can stay sexually undeclared forever, until the end of the world.
Guilty of being a glossy teen sex comedy about the end of the world through
multiple partners and killer cults.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2011 Brett Cullum; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.