“Kaboom,” the new film from Gregg Araki, has been described as “sexy” and “silly.” It is certainly both of those things. However, it’s also suspenseful, thoughtful and surprisingly frightening. The film is a college sex comedy sci-fi thriller and Araki does a graceful balancing act, with the disparate genre element — until he takes the film on a strange turn (even by the standards of a college sex comedy sci-fi thriller) in its final minutes.
The film centers on Smith (Thomas Dekker) a bisexual college freshman, who lusts after his ostensibly straight dorm mate, Thor, parties at night with his best friend, Stella (Haley Bennett) and studies film, though he feels like the art form is on the edge of extinction. His dreams, in which he sees visions of a dumpster, a door, and a mysterious woman with red hair, have a hint of the apocalyptic as well.
The nightly visions give Smith’s life a sense of dark foreboding, however, the things are generally sunny for him until, one night, he sees the girl from his dreams in a nightclub. He approaches her in hopes she can help him solve the mystery, but she promptly throws up on his shoes and disappears into the night. On the walk home, though, Smith sees the girl again, this time being pursued by a group of men in animal masks. He is caught up in the assault and loses consciousness. He awakes, wondering if it was all a dream. However, the masked men begin surveilling him and he receives mysterious e-mails that lead him to fear he’s been caught up in a sinister conspiracy.
“Kaboom” has many undeniably farcical elements — the dim-witted blonde surfer Thor, in particular, is hilarious. But a sense of impending doom underlies much of the running time. The film manages to be knowing and humorous without breaking the suspense and sense of dread that permeate the picture. As the mystery deepens, even silly characters, like Loretta’s super-powered witch girlfriend and the stoner resident advisor (played by hapa actor and Araki regular James Duval), take on frightening undertones.
The filmmaking is very good in “Kaboom,” as are the performances. The whole thing feels like the fever dream you’d get after a night spent reading superhero comics and Murakami novels, listening to Morrissey and watching “The Wicker Man.” Araki manages to weave these elements together to create a compelling mystery, but (as I believe Murakami once said) the worst part of any mystery is its resolution. That certainly is the case with “Kaboom.” The end of the film veers sharply slow, methodically-crafted horror and loses a lot of audience investment in its last few minutes. As weird as the last few minutes are, though, they’re not boring. And it’s hard to believe that someone as skillful as Araki didn’t know exactly what he was doing.
Kaboom is now playing at the Bridge Theater, 3010 Geary Blvd, in San Francisco.