Q&A: Gregg Araki Welcomes You To Planet KABOOM

An archive interview from The Gingold Files.

By Michael Gingold · January 28, 2019, 9:55 PM PST
Kaboom Araki

Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on January 28, 2011, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

Gregg Araki burst onto the independent film scene in the 1990s with the “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” of Totally F***ed Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere, chronicling the lives of disenfranchised and dysfunctional youths with healthy dollops of sex and violence. Now he’s back with Kaboom, which contains just as much sex, a little less violence and extra added supernatural undertones.

An attraction at the current Sundance Film Festival that begins its theatrical release from IFC Films in New York City, Kaboom is an explosion of raunch and paranoia in bright primary colors, starring A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Thomas Dekker as college student Smith, The Hole’s Haley Bennett as his acerbic lesbian best friend Stella and Rubber’s Roxane Mesquida as her new love interest Lorelei (who may be a literal witch). Amidst their assorted sexual shenanigans, Smith begins having odd dreams that seem to be coming scarily true, involving murder, animal-masked marauders and more. So how did Araki dream up this unique cinematic concoction? Read on…

Would you say that Kaboom is your most genre-oriented film?

Yes and no, in the sense that it definitely has genre elements in it, but it’s also kind of non-genre in the sense that it’s such an amalgamation of different things. I really wanted it to be free and not have to fit into any type of pigeonhole. It’s basically a lot of different textures; it’s got parts that are funny, sexy, scary, and some gore elements and horror elements and paranoid thriller elements. You know, this character is a witch, other characters have sort of secret powers, stuff like that.

Was it a challenge to come up with a story that had that freedom to go off on those tangents, yet held together at the center?

It wasn’t a challenge to come up with it. It was really fun and exciting to write and to make, and especially to edit. I just loved being in the world of Kaboom and escaping to it. That’s one of the things about the film—it just sucks you in and you’re in its world for the 84 minutes or whatever. The difficult part is getting a movie like Kaboom financed and distributed. Nobody makes this type of film anymore, because it’s really tough to make something that’s outside the box and not like everything else. Even in the indie world, there’s a tendency to just want to replicate whatever was successful last year, or two years ago. There’s a kind of conservatism going on, because the marketplace has shrunk so much and there are fewer distributors and money’s very tight. But making Kaboom was really a blast. Hard work, certainly, but a lot of fun to create that world.

You have a very enthusiastic cast, in terms of their performances and their willingness, in most cases, to bare it all.

That was one of the fun things about making Kaboom; working with a cast of young talent on their way up is always exciting. It’s fun to make those discoveries. Obviously, some of the kids had worked quite a bit before; Thomas was on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Kelly Lynch [who plays Smith’s mother] has done a million things. But there were several actors who’d hardly done anything. It worked with a similar cast when I made Nowhere back in the ’90s, and it’s always fun to see where they go from here. They’re amazingly talented kids, so it was an incredible opportunity to work with them at this point in their careers.

They all had to be pretty uninhibited…

Yeah. Everybody really believed in the film and wanted to be involved in it. The actors were all super-brave, never questioned anything, always gave it 110 percent, and it was a great experience. That’s one of the cool things about the younger generation of actors: Because they’ve grown up in a more liberated time, there’s that sense of wanting to do something that’s cool and different and has a real vision behind it, and has aspirations to be something artistic and out of the mainstream. For instance, Juno Temple, who plays London, had worked with Eva Green in a previous film and is a big fan of her movie The Dreamers. Eva has also taken some real risks in her career, and I know Juno was talking to her about how to prepare for sexual scenes and stuff like that, because she’d never done a love scene before. But these young actors have grown up in a world where they’re taking chances and getting rewarded for it, they have amazing careers and get to do interesting roles. That’s not to say there aren’t actors who are super-conservative and scared off by material like this [laughs], but there a lot of them who are really excited to do something different and a little bit on the edge.

And yet, as you mentioned above, there seems to be more resistance on the financing side to films this daring than when you first started out.

Everybody thinks it’s easy for me, because I’ve made so many films now. But it doesn’t get any easier; I actually believe it’s gotten worse, in the sense that because of the economy, there are fewer companies, and people are very gun-shy. I think it’s been getting a little better recently, but it does tend to go in cycles.

Kaboom has a much more colorful look than many independent films these days.

Yeah, I’m really not into that whole documentary, gritty, hand-held, shitty, ugly… [Laughs] I don’t go to the movies for that. I’m not saying that there aren’t any good films made in that style, it’s just not my style. I like to go into a world that’s creative and controlled and gorgeous and just this sort of sensory experience, and that’s definitely what we were going for with the lighting and the color. One of the things about the movie that I think is really effective is the sense that it takes you into a world that’s more beautiful and fun to be in than the real world.

What goes into creating that sort of world for you and your collaborators?

My movies are very visually specific. I work from storyboards, and I usually pull images that capture the mood and the flavor I’m going for. There’s a very specific sense of direction in terms of what the visual style is going to be, and I find that DPs and designers really like to work that way; it’s not really limiting, it gives them a sense of where the ship is heading, as opposed to the “I don’t know what I want, you show me” kind of attitude. That’s not the way I work. There’s definitely an influence from graphic novels in Kaboom; it’s kind of a stylized, comic-booky world.

Were there any particular graphic novels or comics that influenced the film’s visual approach?

I don’t collect comic books or graphic novels now, but when I was a kid, I was really super into comics—in fact, it’s sort of where my filmmaking comes from. I was one of those weird little kids who loved Marvel and DC Comics, and I used to draw my own comic books—I still have them back at home in Santa Barbara; I had a whole line of them. And obviously, writing and drawing comics is pretty closely related to directing movies. I’m not a current collector, I can’t really afford it [laughs], but that has always been a huge influence on my style, and if you look at my storyboards, they actually look like comics. They’re basically all the images of the movie, laid out like in a comic book. The sort of pop-art visual nature of my movies all comes from there, and Kaboom is, of all my films, probably the most overtly comic-booky of them all.