Watching Kaboom, I was convinced that I was seeing some kind of insane masterpiece, that writer/director Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin) had at last found his voice and was on his way to becoming this generation’s answer to David Lynch. But then came the film’s final fifteen minutes, when everything he had worked for dramatically came crashing down. His mistake, which would be preferable under normal circumstances, was providing an explanation; what begins as a nonsensical but intensely absorbing dreamscape eventually devolves into a preposterous paranoid fantasy, one with a clear objective. It’s not a slow devolving, either – it’s an instantaneous shift, as if, at the snap of the fingers, the film stops playing directly on the emotions and magically transforms into a second-rate spy thriller.
The first three-quarters play like a LGBT reboot of Lynch’s 2001 psychological drama Mulholland Drive; it follows no consistent or logical pattern of storytelling, and yet you’re hopelessly drawn in, and the less sense it makes, the more hypnotic it becomes. In this delightful confusion, we meet a bisexual eighteen-year-old college student named Smith (Thomas Dekker), his lesbian best friend, Stella (Haley Bennett), and his new sexual partner and friend, London (Juno Temple). Smith has a recurring dream: He walks naked down a brightly lit maze of hallways, encounters Stella, his mom, his roommate, and two girls he has never met, and approaches a door with the number nineteen on it, behind which is nothing but a red dumpster.
In the waking world, strange things begin happening. One of the unknown girls in his dream becomes Stella’s new girlfriend. Her name is Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), and she possesses strange supernatural powers, some of which she uses on Stella in bed. The other unknown girl approaches Smith at a party, where she vomits on his shoes. Later on, after eating a cookie laced with something psychotropic, Smith is approached by someone who appears to be in the same girl. She’s in a panic, and they’re both pursued by men in black jumpsuits and animal masks. She disappears. When Smith awakens, he finds a flash drive in his pocket. London admits that she knows the girl Smith encountered. Two notes materialize, the first reading, “You are the chosen son,” the second reading, “Now the fun begins.”
Stella realizes that Lorelei is a bit wacko, but she’s afraid to break up with her because of her witch-like powers. Smith’s roommate, a surfer dude named Thor (Chris Zylka), comes and goes, and although he’s straight and basically an idiot, Smith is attracted to him, and notices that he exfoliates and coordinates his flip flops. At one point, he wrestles with another straight guy, and they’re both wearing only their underwear. Smith receives a video e-mail from a guy named Oliver (Brennan Mejia), who locked eyes at a party one night. The masked men return and chase Smith into the dorm of a stoner known only as The Messiah (James Duval), who looks like a hippie transplanted directly from the late 1960s. There’s a newspaper article about a torso found in a dumpster, which later goes missing. Smith’s mom (Kelly Lynch) calls him in a panic and tells him to drop everything he’s doing and come home.
As all this happens, Smith continues to explore his sexuality, first with London, then with a random man on a nude beach named Hunter (Jason Olive), then in a bisexual encounter with London and Thor’s wrestling buddy, Rex (Andy Fischer-Price). Smith gets an e-mail with a warning and a link to website about a cult. He takes a look. He’s shocked by what he finds. Stella breaks up with Lorelei, and the latter doesn’t take it too well. Smith and Oliver finally meet in person, and after a small misunderstanding and a few choice curse words, they decide to start seeing each other. Smith turns nineteen. He’s continually plagued by the feeling that something cataclysmic is about to happen. He isn’t sure what that something is, but perhaps it has to do with his nightly vision. He meets a girl in a gas station bathroom, who explains that she had a twin sister.
Does any of this lead to something? Unfortunately, yes. What made Mulholland Drive work so well was that no character, subplot, or image added up to anything in particular; it was constructed like a dream, with random narrative threads intertwining in no explainable way. Kaboom seemed to be doing the same thing, and it was going so well. Alas, everything that happens, every character we meet, and every visual that pops up was all included for a reason – and to be perfectly frank, the reason sucks. Why did Araki cop out at the last minute and resort to ridiculous explanations? This is not the kind of film that necessitates everything being spelled out; it should have been allowed to just flow like a dream, to go nowhere and provide the audience with no resolution.