It’s the end of the world again! Time for a fix of Gregg Araki. Never a filmmaker to pass up the all-bets-are-off charm of the end times, Araki claimed a place in the New Queer Cinema with 1992’s ‘The Living End’, about a pair of HIV-positive outlaw lovers on the lam. Then came a ‘teen apocalypse’ trilogy (‘Totally Fucked Up’, ‘The Doom Generation’ and ‘Nowhere’) that put Cronenberg, Bret Easton Ellis, ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ and the Illuminati through a queer blender.
Next were the threesome comedy ‘Splendor’ (1999); the achingly beautiful ‘Mysterious Skin’ (2004), with its alien abductions, underage fisting and ecstatic Fruit Loops; and the stoner interlude ‘Smiley Face’. An eclectic bunch, then, unified by an alienated, bottom-up perspective on society, saturated-verging-on-lurid mise-en-scène and a blasé but not unemotional approach to sexual liberation.
‘Kaboom’, as the title suggests, finds Araki back in teen apocalypse mode. Smith (Thomas Dekker, pictured) is an averagely fucked-up freshman who’d be enjoying film studies (which he compares to ‘studying an animal that’s on the verge of extinction’) were it not for the bad dreams. What starts out as a savvy information-age campus sex comedy, involving ‘ass-tards’, jealous witches and a surfer called Thor, takes a Lynchian, conspiratorial turn with the arrival of sinister animal-masked men, a secretive online cult and intimations of nuclear armageddon.
Araki’s work is not for everyone; the plotting can feel arbitrary and the characters vapid. But that’s kind of the point – if shameless West Coast homoeroticism and eyeball-rolling snark ring your bell, this will grab you.
But there’s more going on than that. Araki uses smart photography and location work to build a darkly dreamlike sense of uncanny peril. If there’s an undercurrent of impending cataclysm in today’s culture, ‘Kaboom’ senses that feeling, seizes it in a surreal clinch and hurtles with
it off a cliff.