Smith shares with his friends a fluidity of spirit and expectation, a capacity to accept what comes without feeling fatalistic or waxing cynical.
"It's always the same dream," says Smith (Thomas Dekker), "I'm wandering naked in this strange maze of hallways and I feel this strange sense of impending doom, like something terrible is about to happen." As you watch him wander at the start of Kaboom, you can relate -- even if you haven't seen quite that maze of hallways or have quite Smith's stunningly blue eyes. You've had that "strange sense" too, that life is bound to change, that the future is scary.
That sense is especially familiar if you've seen Gregg Araki's older movies, touchstones for New Queer Cinema like The Living End, Doom Generation, and Nowhere. In each, teens sort out worlds shaped by adults, even as they try to make their own experiences or find their own "identities." Araki says that Kaboom "has more of a Zen quality" than the earlier movies, and it's true the kids here, mostly very pretty college students, seem less anxious about who they are or where they're headed. But still, they ask the same questions and face the same future.
In the new film, opening at New York's IFC center 28 January and is also available On Demand, that future is indicated by the title, Kaboom. Smith's dream sets out a puzzle to be solved, as he passes by individuals he knows and will meet, as he wonders about the dumpster he finds behind a black door. He thinks he knows who he is, anyway, an ambisexual freshman who has little interest in such identity categories but has to explain himself to most new acquaintances. Mostly, as he notes after waking from yet another iteration of his "same fucking bizarre dream," he's alone in his dorm room and, "Being 18 and incredibly horny, any time I have five idle minutes, my right hand automatically takes over like it's got a will of its own."
Smith sees himself through a number of prisms, with his daily existence punctuated by phone calls from his disinterested but sill nosy mother (Kelly Lynch), pointed observations by his best friend Stella (Haley Bennett), and his own wrestling with his past, namely, the father who died when he was a baby. These prisms are complicated by the fact that Smith is currently majoring in film studies, "something I wanted to do all my life," he says, but that also feels "a little anachronistic, kind of like studying an animal that's on the verge of extinction."
Aware as he is of this likely future, Smith finds himself exploring a past, introduced to his adventure through that most likely of portals, a campus party. Though he lusts after his straight surfer-dude roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), Smith settles for accommodating Stella, accompanying her to the event where she meets a new girlfriend Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida) and where he eats a life-changing cookie. Like Alice, he now sees everything differently, from the redheaded girl (Nicole LaLiberte) who barfs on his shoe to his apparent soulmate, the most lovely London (Juno Temple). He's pushed further into his combinatory new-and-old experience when he and the redhead are assaulted by a trio of college boys in animal masks, always the sign of pagan mystery.
Following a spate of apparent blood and mayhem -- and the loss of an apparent flashdrive recording of same -- Smith decides he's not just hallucinating, as Stella initially assures him (Stella, who appears again and again eating cafeteria food, seated across the table from him: she's the quintessential movie best friend and yet, so much more). Rather, Smith discovers, almost every moment in his life -- even those that seem like throwaways, like meeting the hunky Hunter (Jason Olive) at a nude beach (where he goes to "clear my head," he says, and finds the lying out "a little nerve-racking but kind of liberating") -- is leading him toward that "impending doom."
The ride is rambunctious, but not especially urgent. Smith and his buddies are all beautiful and independent-minded. The one form of "authority" they encounter on a regular basis is their stoner RA, the Messiah (Doom Generation's James Duval, bearded and lumpy). As he pretty much abdicates the role of supervisor, the teens do online searches, follow up leads, and come to conclusions, only to rethink and come to a few more conclusions.
All this rambling around in the plot leaves time for the searchers to crack vulgar and wise ("It’s a well known fact dreams are just your brain taking a dump at the end of the day") and, in London's case, offer a cocky paramour "a few constructive pointers" in the art of cuninglingus ("Pay attention to how she's reacting: it's about finding a rhythm she likes and sticking to it until the job is done"). London insists that life and sex need not be complicated, and the film both confirms and refines that assessment: it's all complicated, but that doesn’t mean it's any less vivid or worthwhile, or helped by finding a rhythm. Smith shares with his friends a fluidity of spirit and expectation, a capacity to accept what comes without feeling fatalistic or waxing cynical. They seek a future they're unlikely to find, but the journey is provocative and weirdly enchanting.