Friday, 29 October 2010

LFF #5: Kaboom (Gregg Araki, 2010)

After the dark, ethereal masterpiece Mysterious Skin (2004) and the light, frothy Smiley Face (2007), Gregg Araki returns to his old school sex-em-ups of the 90s marked by bright colours, sci-fi conspiracy and lots of naked beauts. Smith (Thomas Dekker) is in love with his straight, hunky roommate Thor (Chris Zylka) and his lesbian best friend Stella (Haley Bennet) is dating a witch named Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida). After getting wasted at a party Smith meets and sleeps with the perky London (Juno Temple). Soon after leaving her place he witnesses a red haired woman (Nicole LaLiberte), previously seen in his dreams, being attacked by three men in animal masks. Soon he uncovers a cult called the New Order ("the seminal 80s band?") and discovers much more than he bargained for... fans of The Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy are in retro heaven.

Kaboom is a much glossier, slicker affair than any film from that trilogy, but this is essentially Nowhere (1997) part deux. My thoughts on Nowhere are already pretty well established and certainly Kaboom has none of the time defining cultural oddness that I so love about that film. It does, however, have direct music cues, a cafe resembling The Hole, menacing animals and James Duval playing 'The Messiah' - and, of course, it's about the end of the world. Hardcore Araki fans may see this as more of a regression than anything else, especially in the visual department, and certainly Kaboom offers nothing especially new to his already uneven oeuvre. While I'm glad to see the back of the anti-establishment nonsense that littered the likes of The Living End (1992), the visual grit of his erotic dystopias packed a punch that this misses by a mile. It's a much more polished, studio approved look (although I'm sure no major studio would even think about distributing it), in keeping with the films escalating sense of silliness. But many of his fans will be delighted to see him returning to his roots and completely letting loose again. If nothing else can be said for the film, it's a whole load of fun. The dialogue is witty and crammed with innuendo, totally frank about preference-swapping sexuality, as well as nodding to cinema of the past. Refreshingly the film is totally aware of how utterly absurd it is, and the fact that most exposition scenes are played straight faced is what makes it so laugh out loud funny. The cast are totally game too - not just for reciting the convoluted, surfer-headed and horny dialogue, but also for playing it stark naked. Sex has always been a theme of Araki's work but none have played it quite so... adoringly...

I lost count of the amount of times people have sex in Kaboom. The first time we meet Smith he's fantasizing about making out with Thor, who interrupts by bursting through the door with a buxom babe. Very quickly, they're going at it on the bed in comically OTT style. It's not long before Smith has sex with London (this happens multiple times, once in a threesome with Rex (Andy Fischer-Price), who also shares an energetic scene with London alone) and the next time we meet Thor he's trying to give himself oral sex. Everybody in Kaboom is trying to get laid - and Araki amps up the guilty fun of the movie by making sure they mostly succeed. It may be nowhere near his best work (it's also far from his worst) but this is a significant Araki movie for the way in which he approaches sex. It's never specified whether any character is straight, gay or bisexual - preferences are hinted at in conversation but it mostly playfully toys with the idea of anyone being up for anything. This frankness is exciting and we only really learn the preference of a character when they're having sex with someone - gay, lesbian or hetero. The film has an abundance of all, with no prejudice or judgement.

Far from perfect, Kaboom was still a festival highlight for me. A lot of days are spent watching dark dramas with psychological complexities and moral issues. Films with poignancy and gravitas. Films with long takes and minimal dialogue. They may have been among the best films of the festival (in fact, this year had a dedicated event called 'In The Hands Of Fate: Existentialism In Film') but none were as joyously romping as Kaboom. It has next to no substance, and none of the artistry that Araki is capable of. But it's beautiful, bonkers and very, very sexy. I laughed a lot, and I can't wait to see it again.

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