Kaboom is the tenth feature film from fiercely unconventional filmmaker Gregg Araki. Being involved in the New Queer Cinema movement, his films defy categorization just as his characters defy rigid sexual identities. However, the film merely adds credence to the idea that American cinema cannot be arty without being mind-numbingly irritating and completely devoid of meaning.
Smith (Thomas Dekker) is an 18-year old university student who claims that his sexuality is “undeclared”, although he has a large sexual appetite. He hangs around with his best friend, art student Stella (Haley Bennett), frequently hooks up with London (Juno Temple) and lusts after surfer roommate Thor (Chris Zylka). All apparently very boring, until he witnesses what may or may not have been the murder of an enigmatic red-haired girl, who has been haunting his dreams. Now men wearing animal masks are chasing him and strange things are happening to his friends.
The film aims at being unconventional and surprising without being afraid to be a little incomprehensible. Though these subversions are worthy of merit in themselves, the film never feels like it has succeeded to doing anything it sets out to do. It feels like loads of pieces of different films strung together for no apparent purpose and it fails to reward its viewers’ perseverance. Its “mystery in a school setting” is not as wittily rendered as it is in Brick and its mix of teenage turmoil and gothic horror is a dull repetition of the equally uninspired Donnie Darko.
By Araki’s own admission, the key influence behind Kaboom was David Lynch, though it feels more like the pop sensibility of Richard Kelly. The spectre of Lynch is apparent but only because Araki is so desperate to allude to that director’s fiercely overwrought and pointless films (all but The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet), with extreme close-ups on food mimicking the opening of Blue Velvet for absolutely no reason. In fact it is hard to imagine that Lynch would be happy to have such a film recalling his own films so shamelessly. Kaboom is entirely a film that aims for weird, and sacrifices meaning and interest in the process.
In one scene, in which Smith allows a scared Stella to take his bed while he sleeps on the floor, the camera moves from left to right in a high angle from Stella to Smith. Though a reasonably nice shot to look at, it becomes clear that Stella is sleeping at the foot of the bed, a weird thing to do especially given her state of mind. No reason is given for her doing this other than to accommodate Araki’s shot. This is symptomatic of the film’s problem. Clearly, Araki was busy behind the camera, making sure his film was trendy and ‘trippy’ (to use a word that has been the bane of modern cinema). Similarly, why animal masks? As a result, the film seems to have nothing but contempt for its plot, characters, script and, because of this, its audience.
In the end, however, the joke is that none of this matters, not the characters, not the meaning of the film and certainly not the plot, which begs the question: why make it? And, further, why watch it?