When Gregg Araki returned to the film world following a five-year hiatus with 2004’s Mysterious Skin. The film became a surprise hit in the world of art house and indie theaters as Araki was back in a big way. In 2007, Araki made his most accessible and surprising film of his career in a stoner comedy called Smiley Face that starred Anna Faris. The film proved to be another surprise proving that the often controversial Araki could make a film that was entertaining. Following another break in trying to develop projects, Araki would finally return in 2010 with his first original project in more than a decade with the sci-fi comedy entitled Kaboom.
Written, edited, and directed by Gregg Araki, Kaboom tells the story of an 18-year old film student having a sexual awakening as he tries to find himself. Along with his other friends discovering their own sexual awakening, the film student would also have surreal fantasies featuring two different women leading to questions about a possible apocalypse. The film recalls Araki’s mid-1990s Teenage Apocalyse Trilogy of films that included Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation, and Nowhere but with a new, post-millennium sensibility. Starring Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Juno Temple, Roxane Mesquida, Chris Zylka, Kelly Lynch, and longtime Araki-cohort James Duval. Kaboom is a witty, colorful sci-fi thriller/comedy from Gregg Araki and company.
Smith (Thomas Dekker) is an 18-year old film student confused about his sexual preference as he rooms with a hunky, blond surfer named Thor (Chris Zylka). Smith is bothered by a recurring dream he has featuring Thor, his mother (Kelly Lynch), and his lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) along with two women he doesn’t know. Already having a weird experience in college that includes a stoned resident advisor named the Messiah (James Duval). Things get weirder during a party where one of the women in his dreams is Stella’s new girlfriend Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida). He later meets a British student named London (Juno Temple) where the hallucinogenic cookies he ate has him seeing strange things including an encounter with the other woman (Nicole LaLiberte) in his dreams.
After getting a USB flash-drive in his coat pocket and seeing a strange ritual that involved the woman, later to be revealed as Madeleine O’Hara. Smith wants to know who she is as London reveals that she knows her from her sociology class. Smith would later have weird encounters with three animal-masked men as London reveals more news while Stella would reveal some strange things about Lorelei. At a nude beach, Smith meets Hunter (Jason Olive) whom he would have sex with while Stella is trying to break things off with Lorelei who is revealed to be a witch with powers. With London helping Smith out in the investigation while taking time to have sex with Thor’s friend Rex (Andy Fischer-Price), Smith gets a mysterious message that would about Madeleine’s missing body.
With Smith’s 19th birthday happening, he gets another weird message along with more sexual encounters with Hunter, London, and a surprise. The birthday gets more surprising as he attends a concert where he meets a young guy named Oliver (Brennan Mejia), whom he had been contacting and saw at a party weeks before. Still, Smith’s night gets stranger when he sees a woman who looked like Madeleine as he asks her questions. The night gets stranger when Smith and Stella would have their own strange encounters where Smith makes a breakthrough over what is happening. Even as London helps with an answer leading to a cult as it becomes clear that something is happening.
The film is essentially a genre-bending film that recalls not just Araki’s past teen-angst films of the 1990s but also his exploration with surrealism as it features clips from a couple of films by Luis Bunuel. Yet, the movie is about a young man’s sexual awakening as he encounters mysterious, surreal surroundings leading him to the discovery of a strange cult. Still, it’s a film where Araki gets to refine his filmmaking and his themes of sexual exploration and teenage identity. This time around, he doesn’t fuse it with a lot of pop culture references or cameos that sometimes become a distraction with his past work.
The story is interesting though uneven as the first half is this zany, free-wielding comedy with elements of sex and bits of suspense. The second half becomes more of a suspenseful, sci-fi kind of film with lots of ideas about cults. Still, Araki manages to make things engaging and also entertaining in the way he presents stories with stylized dialogue and dazzling sequences.
Araki’s direction is definitely as potent as ever as he is given more to do with his camera while creating scenes that are fun to look at. Even in creating sex scenes that are surreal from the viewpoint of its characters. Yet, Araki manages to create a lively world of college life that is about having sex, going to parties, and all of those things. Yet, the framing of the scenes along with the suspenseful, surreal moments he creates is definitely mesmerizing in its imagery. Despite the limited budget he has, Araki was able to create sci-fi moments that are very strange yet electrifying to watch.
Since it’s a largely stylized film that includes some weird transitional wipes and other stylized cuts to create something vibrant due to Araki’s work as the editor. Even as he creates a lot of intense moments for the film’s suspenseful scenes as it’s clear that Araki is becoming more confident as a director. While the film’s abrupt, what-the-fuck ending will definitely turn off a lot of people. It’s Araki’s way of subverting things since the film was to lead to a climatic ending as it does end things with a bang, literally. Whatever flaws the film has, it is proof that Araki is getting better as a director.
Cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen does a fantastic job with the film’s vibrant yet colorful photography. Notably in the party scenes where the lights are filled with dazzling colors mixed in with blue and pink while the nighttime scenes are exquisite in its haunting presentation. Valde-Hansen’s photography is definitely the film’s technical highlight for the way it allows the film to be stylized without over-doing it.
Production designer Todd Fjelsted, along with set decorator Kristen Rajterowski and art director J.B. Popplewell, does an excellent job with the film‘s art direction from the blackish look of the restaurant where the students eat to the parties they attend. The art direction and set pieces created for the film are amazing to look as it plays to Araki’s style. Costume designer Trayce Gigi Field does a spectacular job with the film‘s costumes from the big earrings that Stella wears to the 80s-like clothing that London wears. The costumes are fun to look at as its’ another of the film’s technical highlights.
Visual effects supervisor Wesley Cronk does some very good work with the minimal visual effects needed for the hallucination scenes as well as weird sex scenes involving Stella and Lorelei. Sound editor Trip Brock does a fine job with the film’s sound in capturing the atmosphere of the parties along with the climatic suspense scene towards the end of the film.
Music composer Robin Guthrie, along with Vivek Maddala, Ulrich Schnauss, and Mark Peters, does a wonderful score that is a mixture of shoe gaze, dream-pop, and ambient music. Notably in playing some of the dream sequences that Smith encounters throughout the film. Music supervisor Tiffany Anders helps create a diverse yet intoxicating soundtrack that features A Place to Bury Strangers, the Horrors, the xx, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Friendly Fires, Metro Area, Airiel, Tears Run Ring, Cut Copy, Helen Stellar, Placebo, Explosions in the Sky, the Big Pink, the Depreciation Club, and Ladytron. The mixture of indie and electronic music is definitely amazing as with any of Araki’s films. The soundtrack and score is always a highlight of his films.
The casting by Jenny Jue and Johanna Ray is superb for the use of young actors needed as well as veterans. Small yet notable performances include Michael James Spall as a mysterious cult figure, adult film star Christine Nguyen as a girl Thor sleeps with, Carlo Mendez as a trailer for Smith’s mom, and Nicole LaLiberte as the mysterious Madeleine. Other notable small but memorable roles include Andy Fischer-Price as Thor’s surfer buddy Rex, Brennan Mejia as Oliver, Jason Olive as the nude-beach guy Hunter, and James Duval in a hilarious performance as stoner resident advisor the Messiah.
Roxane Mesquida is incredibly sexy and cool as the witchy yet mysterious Lorelei who seduces Stella and freaking her out. Chris Zylka is funny as the very attractive blond surfer Thor who often says silly, stupid things around Stella while is often impressed by Smith’s sexual appetite. Kelly Lynch is very good in a small role as Smith’s workaholic mom who is carrying a big secret about what is going on with him. Juno Temple is great as London, the British student who helps Smith in his journey to find out what is going on while having a great sexual appetite where Temple has a great monologue about how to perform oral sex on a woman.
Haley Bennett is excellent as Stella, Smith’s sarcastic arty friend who helps him out while dealing with her own strange encounters with Lorelei as Bennett gets to play cool. Finally, there’s Thomas Dekker in a superb role as the sexually-confused Smith. Dekker plays up to the character’s naiveté in his sexual exploration while learning about the dreams he’s having in relation to the strange things he is dealing with as Dekker does a fantastic job.
While it may not live up to the brilliance of Mysterious Skin or past films like The Living End and The Doom Generation. Kaboom is still a stellar yet entertaining film from Gregg Araki. Armed with a great ensemble cast that includes Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Roxane Mesquida, Juno Temple, and James Duval. It’s a film that fans of Araki’s work will enjoy in its style and how he engages the characters in their situations. While it’s not a perfect film that has a very odd ending, it is a film that definitely plays with people’s expectations of a genre-bending film like this. In the end, Kaboom is a colorful, mesmerizing, and funny film from Gregg Araki.
Gregg Araki Films: (Three Bewildered People in the Night) - (Long Weekend (0’ Despair)) - The Living End - Totally Fucked Up - The Doom Generation - Nowhere - (Splendor) - (This is How the World Ends (TV)) - Mysterious Skin - Smiley Face - (White Bird in a Blizzard)
© thevoid99 2011
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