Review: Gregg Araki’s “Kaboom”

Kaboom, the latest film by Gregg Araki, is billed as “The Gregg Araki Movie.”  This strongly indicates that Kaboom can be seen as a sort of career summing-up, marrying the anarchic, subversive, go-for-broke sensibility of early films such as The Living End and Totally F***ed Up with the more sophisticated filmmaking techniques of Mysterious Skin and Smiley Face.  Araki’s last film Smiley Face was a pot-fueled comedy, and Kaboom unfolds as a kind of stoner’s conspiracy-theory fantasy.

Kaboom opens with a mysterious recurring dream of the protagonist, Smith (Thomas Dekker), a college student who, by his own description is “18 and perpetually horny.”  Although he is attracted to men, he refuses to identify himself as gay, being far more fluid in his sexual identity, having had sex with women as well, including his best friend and classmate Stella (Haley Bennett).  Smith is driven to distraction by his blonde, lunkheaded surfer roommate (Chris Zylka), named Thor (“like the comic”), whom Smith suspects may have homosexual tendencies.  “He’s too into his body,” Smith tells Stella; more suspiciously, Thor has a closet full of color-coordinated flip-flops.  Stella, meanwhile, pursues an ill-fated relationship with Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), who turns out to be a witch with supernatural powers.  This is far from the only strange thing that happens.  Smith begins getting cryptic notes shoved under his door, such as “You Are The Chosen Son.”  But the craziness truly begins at a party during which Smith eats hallucinogen-laced cookies, hooks up withLondon (JunoTemple), a wild, free-spirited woman, and meets a red-haired woman (Nicole LaLiberte) he first encountered in his dream.  After the party, Smith is involved in a bizarre incident in which he and the red-haired woman are chased an attacked by men wearing animal masks.  Throughout most of the film, it is unclear whether these episodes are real, or a figment of Smith’s hyperactive, over-sexed imagination.  The story threads eventually come together to form a vast, global conspiracy that is hilariously explained breathlessly by one of the characters late in the film, in which everything we have seen before is revealed to be not what they appear.  This late-film explanation is reminiscent of the latter minutes of a typical Scooby-Doo episode, as villains become unmasked.

Kaboom rides at a brisk pace, continually topping itself with outrageous, hilarious, WTF moments.  Araki’s digital palette is full of lights and bright colors, appropriate to the phantasmagoric, psychedelic nature of the proceedings.  Kaboom is far more fun and far less tedious than Gaspar Noe’s wildly overpraised Enter the Void, another film that attempts to convey the experience of being under the influence of hallucinogenic substances.  Kaboom is also steeped in a polysexual eroticism that challenges the orthodoxies of identifying exclusively with heterosexuality or homosexuality.  This free-wheeling fluidity extends to Kaboom’s narrative, which expands outward from its college campus to implicate the entire world, the last shot illustrating the film’s title.

Kaboom opens today in New York at IFC Center.