Kaboom (IFC Films, NR)

The result is an entertaining send-up of two staples of commercial American movies: school romances and teen horror flicks.

 
 
 
 
Adults are fond of remarking that college students have only one thing on their mind. Usually that’s just a figure of speech, but in Gregg Araki’s hyperstylized comedy/thriller Kaboom it comes pretty close to the truth.
First of all there’s Smith (Thomas Dekker), a skinny, scruffy, indie boy who has declared a major (film studies, of course) but not a sexual preference. His roommate, the aptly named Thor (Chris Zylka), is a classic blonde surfer dude who, when he’s not noisily banging a girl in the small room he shares with Smith, is practicing flexibility exercises so he can give himself a blow job (in case of a dry spell, he explains) or engaging in suspiciously homoerotic wrestling with a male friend.
Smith’s best friend Stella (Haley Bennett) is a lesbian who is going out with (euphemism!) another aptly-named character, Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), apparently an honest-to-god witch as well as being perpetually horny and threateningly possessive. Smith wastes no time in hooking up with the frankly available London (Juno Temple) and everyone looks perfectly marvelous no matter what the circumstances. They’re students at an unidentified California college and, as is the convention in American films about college students, they never seem to go to class.
Stella advises Smith to settle down and enjoy four years of no-consequences sex and to get busy making all the other mistakes college students are privileged to make, but something isn’t quite right; he’s been having strange dreams, which may or may not be influenced by controlled substances, about two mysterious women and a dumpster. But he also sees them in real life and strange signs and uncanny coincidences start to pile up, turning Kaboom in the direction of a horror film involving a sinister cult and Smith’s long-lost father. The result is an entertaining send-up of two staples of commercial American movies: school romances and teen horror flicks. As we know, in the latter sex = death, so the prospects of these kids making it to the final credits do not look good.
The content of Kaboom is inseparable from its style and Araki is in fine form here; nearly every scene in the film is either hyper-real or frankly artificial and there are lots of references to the conventions of genre films, horror films in particular. It’s his first film in the 2.35:1 format and he makes good use of the wide screen, emphasizing the cinematic rather than “realistic” or naturalistic potential of the medium. Cinematography by Sandra Valde-Hansen, production design by Todd Fjelsted, and costumes by Trayce Gigi Field also emphasize the constructed nature of the film, while the script (also by Araki) is too perfectly hilarious to be real. So here’s fair warning: if you insist on interpreting this film as a conventional Hollywood-style invisible narrative, so much the worse for you.
As with all good genre films there’s something more at stake, and in this case it’s a search for identity. Isn’t that what the college years are really about? A lively soundtrack (you can see the full song listing here: http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=153992281307100&topic=235) featuring bands like Cut Copy, The Big Pink, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Placebo reinforces the self-consciously hip collegiate world of the main characters. There’s a lot of fairly explicit sex and sex talk so Kaboom is not suitable for kids, but anyone with an open mind and who can handle an R-rated film should be fine. Kaboom screened at Cannes where it was awarded the first-ever Queer Palm (for LGBT films) and was also presented at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. | Sarah Boslaugh

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