Kaboom Review

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Score

A highly-fetishised, hyper-surreal teenage Twin Peaks that’s undone by its own excesses and a lack of narrative clarity.

After 2004’s hard-hitting child abuse drama Mysterious Skin, the mild highs of 2007’s stoner comedy Smiley Face were enough for some to whisper that Gregg Araki had gone soft. Four years on, the LA filmmaker has answered those critics with an emphatic, onomatopoeic bitch slap.

A spicy, genre-mashing valentine to youthful exuberance and sexual experimentation, Kaboom follows a group of unbearably gorgeous coeds who become embroiled in a nightmarish murder mystery, as envisioned through the hallucinogenic gaze of the film’s chief protagonist, Smith (Thomas Dekker).

With the lines between fantasy and reality teasingly blurred, Araki lets loose, immersing us in a world of sweaty casual sex and apocalyptic psychedelia. Promiscuous witches and an animal mask-wearing cult haunt Smith’s twisted fiction; only for his growing paranoia to be waved away by caustic gal pal Stella (Haley Bennett) and freespirited fuck buddy London (Juno Temple). Is Smith just tripping, or are their more sinister demons at work?

Araki is at his best when his broad influences are distilled into a cohesive narrative. Here, however, scattershot, idiosyncratic flourishes smother both plot and characters; tangents simmer and fade before they’re ever allowed to seduce. This is vintage Araki – sensual, deadpan, fiercely lo-fi – but the fan-pleasing thematic parallels with the writer/director’s excellent ‘Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy’ aren’t given the breathing space required to appeal to a wider audience.

Even so, for raw, unadulterated escapism, Kaboom is hard to beat. Araki is a solider of the subversive, and his self-made style of experimentalism has long been a jewel in the crown of American indie cinema. But this latest tale of world-weary Californian teens somehow feels less organic, less pure. The jewel has lost its luster a little. The nihilistic ferocity of Totally F***ed Up, Nowhere and The Doom Generation is blunter, the sucker punches of those early films now glancing blows.

Kaboom is romantic, nostalgic and introspective, but as an autobiographical commentary on college life it’s surprisingly enigmatic, offering little insight into why Araki has chosen to indulge in self-reflection at this juncture in his career. Perhaps Stella sums it up best: "College is just an intermission between high school and the rest of your life. Four years of having sex, making stupid mistakes and experiencing stuff. It’s a pit stop, not the Second Coming of the Messiah."

Still, the fact that Kaboom was decorated with the first ever Queer Palm at last year’s Cannes Film Festival is a sign that, almost 25 years into his filmmaking career, Araki has become as important to today’s LGBT generation as John Waters was to his. Contemporary gay cinema doesn’t need a Messiah, but it does need Araki, because while Kaboom isn’t a return to his best form, he is by some stretch its most bold and dynamic ambassador.

Anticipation

Sounds intriguing, but Araki has been inconsistent in recent years.

3

Enjoyment

A highly-fetishised, hyper-surreal teenage Twin Peaks that’s undone by its own excesses and a lack of narrative clarity.

3

In Retrospect

Bright and intoxicating, but too cluttered to be placed alongside the director’s best.

3
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