Indie director shoots for campiness, misses completely

By Drew Hunt

Gregg Araki, a director whose films from the early ’90s were considered to be the best examples of the burgeoning New Queer Cinema, has returned to his filmic roots with his latest offering “Kaboom,” a coming-of-age tale by way of sci-fi mystery. The film blends so many styles and themes it’s nearly impossible to keep up.

Harkening back to the sexual anarchism that permeated his early work, “Kaboom” is about 18-year-old Smith—played by Thomas Dekker—a sexually ambiguous college freshman finding his footing amid a new environment. Along the way, he gets wrapped in a series of explicitly promiscuous situations while finding himself drawn into a vast conspiracy involving an underground cult, the apocalypse and his estranged father.

It’s an absolute hodgepodge of a film, one that utilizes anime-influenced aesthetics and frenetic editing techniques in an attempt to draw attention away from the fact that there’s not a whole lot stewing beneath the surface. “Kaboom” is empty stylization, and Araki’s feeble attempts at adorning it with bells and whistles are as unsuccessful as it is pitiful.

In his early films, Araki garnered waves of controversy in his depictions of sexually licentious teenagers wreaking mayhem across America. He was a decidedly less intellectual counterpart to another New Queer Cinema director, Gus van Sant. Where van Sant’s films remain tasteful and artfully advanced, Araki relies on unbridled shock and awe to tell his stories. “Kaboom” is no exception. The film’s feverish tone is a grand ploy, meant to draw attention away from a distinct lack of substance. Despite their supposed peculiarities, Smith and his cohorts are dimensionless individuals whose functionality seem to shift from scene to scene. The only thing about the characters that remains consistent is Araki’s constant manipulation to serve his own vainglorious needs.

Such blatant superficiality magnifies itself when “Kaboom” strains for modernism. The film attempts to deconstruct ideas of genre and narrative by ushering in a myriad of incongruous themes. The end product is sheer laziness. “Kaboom” is about as reflective as a bowl of Frosted Flakes.

There’s a distinct air of irresponsibility that surrounds Araki—not in the amorality of his characters or narrative choices, but his obvious detachment from the images he puts on screen. Clearly, Araki is a director who sees the more primal side of life. His films, for all their bawdiness, are extensions of his degenerate vision of society. He frequently suggests humans, by nature, are often driven by sexual urges and acts of violence.

Where Araki stumbles—aside from his general lack of prowess as a filmmaker—is his preoccupation with the end of existence. Like his other films, “Kaboom” seems to strongly suggest that as the human race occupies itself with acts of carnality, the world around them is ceasing to exist. In the case of “Kaboom” in particular, had the characters simply lifted their heads from the laps of their sexual partners to take a real look around, such destruction could have been avoidable.

The film’s overriding message seems to be, “We’re all screwed, so let’s screw!” This careless fatalism obviously provides a kind of indulgence for Araki, who treats his films like hedonistic forays of self-fulfillment. For the rest of us, “Kaboom” is an overtly conceptual and intellectually empty annoyance.