At first glance, indie director Gregg Araki's new movie feels like every "hero's quest" story ever — there's a young hero who may be the "chosen son," plus monsters, mysteries and strange hints of the end of the world approaching. The young savior facing the apocalypse is even played by Thomas Dekker, who was John Connor in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. But in the end, Kaboom turns out to be both sillier and darker than the usual "hero searching for himself" movie.
Kaboom reminds me of the sort of rainbow-of-insanity movies that used to rule art-house cinemas, before indie movies started being dominated by family angst and quirky road-trips. Araki owes a lot to John Waters, Roger Corman and Donnie Darko, but also to scores of other indie auteurs of the 1960s and 1970s, whose movies mixed satire, paranoia and porn.
In Kaboom, the main characters spend most of their downtime in a weird student cafe with a huge sign on the wall that reads, "Welcome to the Ontological Void." I'm not sure if the Ontological Void is the name of the cafe, or if that's just a slogan, but either way it seems fitting. Our heroes are uncertain of what to believe in, and they have the nagging suspicion that life is meaningless. There are only two things that can fill the ontological void: sex (the more the better) and finding out answers about the strange occurrences in their world.
Araki adapted one of my favorite novels of the 2000s, Mysterious Skin, and managed to turn it into one of my favorite movies of the 2000s. So it's no surprise that Kaboom is stylish, warped and intense. And very, very queer.
So in Kaboom, Dekker plays Smith, a college freshman who's just about to turn 19. Smith is a film-studies major (in an early monologue, he describes his major as similar to studying a soon-to-be-extinct animal). And he's sexually omnivorous — when someone asks him whether he's straight or gay, he just says he's "undeclared." He has a huge crush on his surfer-dude roommate Thor (who has a big hammer), but meanwhile he hooks up with a cute girl he meets at a party, and a guy whom he runs into on a nude beach. Meanwhile, his best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) starts dating a super-hot girl who has supernatural powers... and it soon turns weird.
(Just to let you know what you're in for, Dekker is nude in the first 30 seconds of this film, although there's no real full frontal nudity ever.)
Here's the first few moments of the film:
Large chunks of Kaboom feel like the funniest sex comedy you've seen in ages — like the running subplot where Smith tries to figure out if Thor is really straight, or heteroflexible. Thor is the ultimate hetero surfer dude, but he has a closet full of color-coordinated flip-flops, and he exfoliates. And he likes to wrestle other dudes almost naked. And — and this is one of the funniest scenes in the movie — he makes a full-on earnest attempt to fellate himself, a goal he thinks he can accomplish if he works at it every day.
And meanwhile, unexplained weird shit keeps happening to Dekker's character, Smith. He has trippy dreams that seem to come true — and one of the people in his dreams, a woman he's never met, gets murdered by cult members wearing strange animal masks. A headless torso turns up in a dumpster, but is it that woman's, or someone else's? And then there's the aforementioned woman with psychic powers. Plus there are the weird messages and clues Smith keeps finding that he's the "Chosen Son," and that "it begins" soon. The animal-headed cultists are popping up everywhere, and meanwhile, Smith's pot-smoking R.A., the Messiah, is having apocalyptic visions.
You would think that the mixture between apocalyptic conspiracy/mystery on the one hand and sex romp on the other would feel a bit awkward, but somehow they mesh into one trippy spectacle. The existence of sinister forces trying to bring the world to an end is just one more reason to party as hard as you can before the world is gone. The search for sex, the search for answers, the search for love... they're all part of the search for meaning. Which in turn is part of coming of age and trying to find yourself. If you're confused, it's because life is confusing. (And that, in turn, means you should probably get laid.)
The thing that saves Kaboom from being just a tiresome sex farce or yet another camptastic David Lynch spoof is its amazing cuteness. The main characters all speak in the same glib, self-mocking way, sporting dialogue like "nuttier than squirrel shit" or "gayer than Clay Aitken" or "Does Mel Gibson hate Jews?" They have the fake invulnerability of young people, but it all turns to vulnerability in a heartbeat. More than most films about young people, Kaboom captures some of the excitement and terror of being young and horny and convinced that everything is fucked.
And without giving too much away, the movie actually does explain all of the weird happenings by the end — it's even a scientific explanation, more or less. Although the very act of tying things up in a neat bow is in itself sort of a gonzo gesture, since many of the revelations require massive amounts of suspension of disbelief.
If you're up for a film where you're going to be just as curious about the nature and gender of Thomas Dekker's next sexcapade as you are about the weird murderous conspiracy surrounding him, then Kaboom is well worth checking out.
Kaboom is having a very limited theatrical release in the U.S., but is also available on-demand on most cable systems already.