Smith is an 18 year old college freshman attracted to his hot straight roommate named Thor. Smith’s best friend is Stella, and on the side Smith has terrific sex with a quirky girl named London. All innocent fun… except for a reoccurring dream Smith has in which all the people he loves in life plus two girls he doesn’t even know invite him down a white corridor and through a door. In life he meets one of the unknown girls and witnesses her death... but he was high at the time and doesn’t know what is real. As his dream intensifies we arbitrarily gain new pieces of info in an effort to develop a nuclear holocaust plot that has deep roots in Smith’s past. This is independent filmmaking at its most creative. It crosses many genres and uses cheeky special effects simply to entertain its audience. There’s nothing more to it. This genre-hopping, eye-bugging exercise works exceptionally well because it focuses more on its characters’ sexual and carefree routines rather than the overarching story. The filmmakers knew that character is where the fun is.
Kaboom is shot in vibrant color, so refreshingly stylish, and the human stereotypes are gleefully on display. Smith is a cute twink who rebels against sexual labels. He is “undeclared”, but his fashion sense is part emo and part young gay sheik so we know which team he plays for. Thor, the straight guy, is a bronzed surfer who spouts out “dude” more than a bad 90s stereotype. Satires are written with a high level of intelligence and know not to insult the stereotypes but really to expose them as falsehoods. Case in point—Smith becomes the hero in an off-beat action flick where at best in standard Hollywood fare he would be the brunt of jokes. Then there’s Stella, Smith’s pal, played by Haley Bennett. I want to mention her by name because she is terrific. Fresh, original, like no other movie lesbian I’ve seen in a teen comedy. She has a quick delivery and an insightful pessimistic outlook with some great, funny dialogue. The whole cast is good but Bennett is exceptional. It’s the Thor’s of the film, the cool kids in high school who really can’t fit in outside their comfort zone, who get the ridicule. Thor and his best friend Rex are portrayed as sexually unsophisticated misfits among the hip, multi-sexual experimentation. This too may be a stereotype but they are redeemed because the film exists in a world where sexuality isn’t a weapon. Thor is very friendly with Smith and is comfortable enough with him to try to perform auto fellatio in his presence. I know how it sounds, but you have to see the movie.
However under all this is some truly frightening imagery, namely the black figures with animal heads who stalk Smith. I had a very powerful reaction to seeing them, perhaps because they triggered a memory I had long forgotten. At night as a kid, I would play a game with myself. I would hide under the covers and imagine that there were dozens of people standing on the street outside my window. I didn’t know who they were or why, but they were there. Seeing these creatures in Kaboom I was reminded of how scared my game made me, and that fear heightened the impact of these scenes. I think without this memory the images retain something of their ability to frighten. Whether it was a direct influence, I think back to Kubrick’s The Shinning. One of the most unsettling images in the entire film was a shot of a person in an animal costume performing oral sex on an ordinary-dressed man. Perhaps it is a subconscious fear of bestiality that makes such images potent or perhaps this whole topic says more about me than Kaboom.
It may just be that I am the right audience for this film. Older people will be less indulgent because the film’s sensibilities are aimed at my generation (maybe even a generation younger). People who don’t believe in pansexuality might find the whole film absurd. Which brings me to a contemporary movie trend I saw further exploited in Kaboom. A lot of films by gay or questioning filmmakers have to detail the Kinsey scale. Kinsey did his research in the 1940’s and though I’m sure it was accurate, it might be time for his surveys and research to be updated. Nevertheless, I just find this revival of Kinsey interesting. Whatever, I liked the movie. Enough said.
Director: Gregg Araki
Writer: Gregg Araki
Stars: Haley Bennett, Thomas Dekker, Chris Zylka and Juno Temple
Runtime: 86 minutes
Kaboom will be released on DVD from IFC Films this May. Pre-order now at Amazon:
If you prefer Blu-ray, visit Amazon (France):
(beware the Blu-ray is Region B locked and French language subtitles are forced by the player!)