Teen sexuality at the apocalypse

Kaboom (MA). Director: Greg Araki. Starring: Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Juno Temple, Kelly Lynch, Chris Zylka. 85 minutes

I interviewed Greg Araki in 2004 at a time when the Classification Review Board, under pressure from several community groups, was considering overturning the R rating that had been given to his paedophilia themed film Mysterious Skin and declaring it instead to be Refused Classification, effectively a ban in Australia.

Araki seemed genuinely hurt by opponents' (sight-unseen) accusations that his film was an 'instruction manual for paedophiles'. He thought (and I agreed) he'd made a thoughtful and sensitive film about the long-term emotional and psychological effects of abuse upon children.

He was eventually vindicated by the Board's decision to uphold the R rating.

I share this in order to illustrate that Araki does not tackle taboo subjects lightly, but in order that they might become subjects of normal discourse and greater understanding.

Lightly, no, though sometimes lightheartedly. His latest film, Kaboom, is much more rambunctious than the sombre Mysterious Skin, but equally willing to explode taboos in the pursuit of honesty and frankness.

Kaboom offers explicit considerations of queer sexuality within the context of an apocalyptic science fiction storyline. In this regard it harks back to Araki's prominence in the 1990s as a proponent of New Queer Cinema, a genre marked by its robust portrayal of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender protagonists, usually as outsiders or renegades from conventional society.

Such is the case here with antihero Smith (Dekker), a label-dodging bisexual college student plagued by ominous dreams of corridors and dumpsters and waking nightmares of sinister animal-masked assailants. In spite of such baffling mental phenomena, he is forging an unexpectedly intense partnership with forthright straight girl London (Temple), even as his eye and his heart are perpetually drawn by an assortment of boys.

At the same time, Smith's casually sardonic BFF Stella (Bennett) is dating a possessive French seductress (Mesquida) who may or may not be a witch. This all plays out amid a fuzz of acid trips and increasingly perilous rumours of conspiracies and doomsday cults, all of which is sure to come to a chaotic head.

The film deals with sexuality explicitly, though not graphically. And the sex scenes are as much about character exploration as titillation. We gain greater insight into London's approach to life through one impromptu lesson to a male partner about the proper way to perform a sex act, than we could through pages of dialogue.

In fact this is a quite cerebral exploitation film with plenty of subtext. Smith's aching crush upon his ridiculously straight roommate Thor (Zylka) signifies a sense of alienation that comes with his status as an 'outsider' and a young person. Ditto, Smith's geographically distant mother (Lynch), and his and London's respective absent fathers. Alienation and otherness drive the characters into each other's orbits with the force of a familial bond.

Kaboom also happens to be very funny. Notably, Stella, as impeccably portrayed by Bennett, strides through the film on the back of a series of perfectly honed, po-faced one-liners, never missing a dignified step as her quips deflate pretension and self-delusion on every side.

The film's climax is a bit of a car crash. Nevertheless this remains a challenging and memorable film.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. Follow Tim on Twitter

Topic tags: Kaboom, Greg Araki, Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Juno Temple, Kelly Lynch, Chris Zylka



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