Kaboom is an odd film to be certain. On one hand, it’s an exploration dealing with the sex lives of a few college students, while on the other, it’s a film with cults, people wearing animal masks, psychic powers, and the possible end of the world. To call the film “uneven” would be generous. It doesn’t strike a firm tone, nor was I ever sure what it wanted to make me feel. But it’s definitely interesting, as you’ll never know just what will happen next.
Our lead is an 18-year-old, Smith (Thomas Dekker), someone who is “undeclared” when it comes to his sexuality, and is only leaving home for the first time now. He has a roommate, a straight guy named Thor (Chris Zylka), whom Smith fantasizes about. Smith’s best friend is a lesbian named Stella (Hayley Bennett), the type of person who is apathetic about everything all of the time — just as long as that’s what’s “cool” right now.
At a party, Smith meets a girl named London (Juno Temple), who becomes his sex-but-nothing-else partner. There’s a pothead nicknamed “The Messiah” (James Duval) who keeps going on about the end of the world, a “witch” named Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida) who becomes a little too infatuated with Stella, and those people with the animal masks. We first see them while Smith is under the influence of some very potent drugs, but soon enough we realize that they’re real, and probably dangerous, too.
There isn’t much of a plot until very late in Kaboom. Too late, in fact, to really factor in all that much. There’s a sequence in which the earlier parts of the film are explained to us — fun fact: not much is as it initially seems — but it all serves little purpose. Yes, it all adds up, but it doesn’t further anything we’d previously seen, nor does it help us see things much differently, as we weren’t exactly “seeing” them beforehand.
For a twist like that to work, we need something early on to grasp hold of. That generally comes in the form of a plot, which is something that Kaboom gleefully steps over. These characters don’t exist to do anything more than sleep around and be scared of those random animal-mask people. They’re not driving toward anything, they’re not trying to accomplish anything in their lives, and because of this, we’re not watching intently enough for a twist to matter.
Imagine if you were to go to a magic show, and you were seeing a very random assortment of tricks. You’ve got your rabbits in hats, arms being sawed off, and so on. Then, at the very end of the show, the magician comes on-stage and tells you that the clock to the corner of the stage actually wasn’t the right time after all, and it’s 10:00 instead of 9:00. You weren’t watching the clock, and that deception didn’t matter or factor in because that’s not important. That’s how I felt about the ending of Kaboom. Sure, it all adds up, but who really cares?
There are some sci-fi elements, some magical powers, and some crazy individuals, but nothing ends up being important. Scenes don’t link up with the next, there’s no cause-and-effect chain, and there isn’t a consistent tone. You’ll have one scene in which a character is scared out of his mind, and then in the next, the lighting will be bright, characters will be laughing and joking around, and cheery music will play in the background. It’s jarring and I can’t say that it was enjoyable to go through this time after time.
Kaboom also has a nasty habit of never making us aware of whether what we’re seeing is a dream or reality. Frequently, we’ll see something that seems pretty real, and then a character will wake up and we’ll become aware that it didn’t really happen. Or maybe it did, as we can’t rely on the film to clarify until the very end. And then there are other points when we’ll see something supernatural, and it’ll end up being real. Or, so we think. Again, we can never be sure. I was more annoyed than anything else while watching this film.
Kaboom is another entry into the teenagers-have-lots-of-sex genre for writer/director Gregg Araki, something that he’s had a lot of experience with, primarily with his “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy.” If he wanted to, he could make it into a quadrilogy with this film, as it fits in perfectly with entries like The Doom Generation or Nowhere. The only real difference is that this one isn’t interested in making any point, and doesn’t contain much in the way of overt visual symbolism.
Kaboom is the type of film that you’ll watch once, have a decent but not entirely enjoyable experience, and then never think about again. It doesn’t manage to find its way into your head like a Doom Generation could, nor is it particularly interested in making much of a point. It’s interesting for some of the time that it plays, and if definitely brings some odd elements to the mix, but it doesn’t add up to anything of substance, and will likely annoy more frequently than it will excite. The ending is filled with too much exposition, most of which is unnecessary and doesn’t improve the film, and after the half-way mark, I was growing tired of these characters. You aren’t going to waste much time if you watch Kaboom, but unless you’re a huge Gregg Araki fan, you’re not going to take much from this movie.