Gregg Araki is no stranger to themes of teenage sexuality, but this may be the first time he's set a story of sexual awakening against the backdrop of an evil cult kidnapping college students in an over-saturated near future.
Welcome to Kaboom, one of the more out-there entries in this year's Cannes selection, which follows mostly-gay student Smith (Thomas Dekker). Troubled by a recurring dream he can't shake, an impossibly hot and impossibly thick surfer roommate named Thor he's fallen in love with (Chris Zylka) and the quick-witted one-liners of his best friend Stella (Haley Bennett), he's rapidly approaching his 19th birthday with apparently little direction.
During a bad trip he hallucinates – or thinks he does – the murder of a redheaded girl by a gang of cloaked figures in animal masks. When he discovers a memory stick in his pocket, planted by the girl, he starts to investigate what happened to her. The more he searches the more it's clear it's not going to be good news...
Araki draws humour from the most unlikely places throughout. When you think you see a punch line a mile away it ends up coming from somewhere else. You're never sure you can trust what you're seeing, nor the characters themselves, and when you start to figure it all out it throws a curveball. All the more jarring when you abandon any notion that it might have a familiar ending only for it to surprise you once again.
It's all unquestionably part of the charm of the piece, told with tongue firmly planted in cheek. It's as if Araki is having a dialogue with his audience, teasing us this way and that, always aware of how outrageous his story is and is becoming. It's most noticeable in its themes of sexuality, with Araki clutching at straws for reasons to get his hot young cast naked. Smith goes to a nudist beach because he 'needs to think,' and his roommate Thor just can't get to sleep if he's got any clothes on.
It's never exploitative, just idiosyncratic in a way Araki knows best. It's not nearly as seminal as his earlier works, but it's a film which dares to be different and provides solid entertainment as it becomes increasingly, and endearingly, convoluted.
For their part his cast plays their roles with aplomb. Thomas Dekker is at turns sexy and adorable, making Smith a young man who's contradictory both confident in his own skin and totally uncertain of who he is. And Haley Bennett shines as Smith's best friend Stella, who's given the film's standout subplot as she pursues an awkward relationship with a crazy girl who may or may not be a witch.
But it's Juno Temple who steals every scene she's in, as London, a minxy young girl Smith meets at a party. She's rolled into the main plot as the story progresses, but even in early scenes, where she should be distracting from the main story, she exudes a confident comedy and sexuality which is hard to ignore.
And then with a final punch line lasting seconds and providing one last shot of adrenalin, it's all over. Quite how to decipher it is your challenge as the credits roll. Funny, sexy and mad, Kaboom may not be vintage Araki, but it's more than worth watching regardless.