Review: “Kaboom” (2011)

Okay, so New Queer Cinema enfant terrible Gregg Araki‘s new candy-coated pansexual nightmare Kaboom may not be a straight-up horror film … but then again, nothing about the director’s wildly uneven but hard-to-ignore films is “straight-up” anything.

In this horny teenage daydream, a precious young bisexual college student (A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Thomas Dekker, as Thomas Dekker-y as ever) bangs and is banged by various off-kilter characters while a dark conspiracy slowly spreads beneath his twee wingtips. Doomsday cults, on-campus murders, drugs, witches, sexual experimentation, macaroni and cheese, and Kelly Lynch may or may not be involved.

Thomas Dekker

It doesn’t matter that much, really – like Kaboom‘s main characters, the film is clearly too busy lingering in bed to care too much about the big picture. About half of the movie’s running time takes place in various dorm beds, be it the one belonging to Smith (Dekker), blithe undergrad vixen London (Juno Temple), droll lesbian art major Stella (Haley Bennett), or Smith’s apparently retarded but very attractive surfer roommate, Thor (Chris Zylka).

In between couplings (which are mostly talk and not much action, so don’t get too excited) there are pops of interesting goings-on including (but not limited to) parties, concerts, birthdays, vengeful lesbian witches, stoner residence hall monitors, casual nude beach sex, and a group of men in animal masks who are potentially murdering students.

Thomas Dekker

There’s a wisp of a sinister story under all this, but let’s face it – nobody goes to a Gregg Araki movie for the plot. The writer-director is best when he’s making as little sense as possible, as in the gloriously unhinged and sprawling cameopalooza Nowhere, easily one of the best movies about Los Angeles ever made.

Actually, let me tweak that – Araki is best when he’s not writing his own material at all, which his best film, Mysterious Skin, clearly demonstrated. Other films that have tackled themes any larger than “California is fucked up” or “kids are hot!” have been, in my opinion, total bores (see: The Doom Generation, The Living End, Splendor).

Chris Zylka

A lot of these films were probably ahead of their time, I realize, but while watching Kaboom it dawned on me just how much the mainstream has caught up with Araki’s visual style and casually nihilist sense of humor. A lot of comparisons have been made between Kaboom and the far darker and more complex Donnie Darko, but there’s another film that is a much better match for Kaboom‘s actual plot and style, and that film is Dude, Where’s My Car?.

Faint praise, perhaps, but that’s all I got.

While I didn’t hate Kaboom, I wasn’t much impressed beyond noting that Araki’s sense of humor about his own ridiculous tastes and fetishistic patterning seems to have deepened; compare Kaboom‘s cheer with the tired, empty angst of The Doom Generation (which from a vantage point of 2011 is nearly unwatchable) and you’ll see what I mean. It’s not particularly funny (whoever wrote the pullquotes on the excellently-designed poster at top must have still been stoned from seeing Smiley Face) and doesn’t manage to achieve a real sense of dread until the last 5 minutes. Mostly it’s just hanging out with impossibly cute college kids on a strangely empty campus for 90 minutes.

It’s great to have Araki out there pushing the “who cares?” queer agenda by making all the boys make out with one another as everyone else looks on approvingly, but is it wrong to wish that he’d taken the care to bring his audience to at least one of the multiple climaxes enjoyed by his characters?

RATING (OUT OF 5):

Kaboom is Rated TV-MA for multiple uninteresting sex scenes, a few hot male asses, boobage, van sex, vomiting, light bondage, a stabbing in the head, and James Duval.


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Buzz created CampBlood.org in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.