Gregg Araki’s most mature, accomplished film to date is 2005’s Mysterious Skin, an aching melodrama that turns the lingering pains of youth into paranormal puzzles that the hero keeps trying to solve. Araki followed that up with 2007’s Smiley Face, a loopy pot comedy, and now his Kaboom combines the tone and style of Smiley Face with Mysterious Skin’s inquiry into identity. Kaboom is pure fantasy in every sense of the word: It’s a riff on sexy, sassy teen movies and conspiracy thrillers that at times seems to exist only so Araki can get his beautiful young cast to strip off their clothes and pair off in every conceivable combination, just as he used to do in his earlier, more scandalous films. But this isn’t just another polyamorous, supernatural post-adolescent sex comedy/mystery; Kaboom is also about how people try to reinvent themselves when they get to college, in spite of tight family ties.
Thomas Dekker stars as a mostly gay college freshman with a crush on his surfer-boy roommate Chris Zylka and a love-hate relationship with his cynical lesbian soulmate Haley Bennett. Dekker also has a dream-life full of ominous omens and warnings. As he approaches his 19th birthday, he takes a few breaks from his studies—and his string of flings with various men and women—to look into the disappearance of a junkie he witnessed getting abducted and murdered by a gang of people in animal masks. Dekker’s investigation leads him back to his hazy family history, which may involve his occasional fuck-buddy, Juno Temple, or his pal Bennett’s new sorceress girlfriend, Roxane Mesquida. The closer Dekker gets to the truth, the more the lives of everyone he cares about are threatened.
Kaboom sports super-cool new-wave music and fashions, and dialogue that’s a degree or two too snappy, almost like a parody of similar movies. (Not that there are any similar movies.) And it comes to a climax that torches whatever vestiges of realism remain. But while it lasts, Kaboom is an unhinged ride through the sensual pleasures of movies, full of naked bodies, booming music, bright colors, crazy twists, and zippy action sequences. It’s rich in mythology and sketchy in presentation, almost like a whole season of some freaky TV show compressed into 86 giddy minutes.