dir-scr Gregg Araki
prd Gregg Araki, Sebastien Lemercier, Andrea Sperling
with Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Juno Temple, Chris Zylka, Roxane Mesquida, Kelly Lynch, James Duval, Andy Fischer-Price, Nicole LaLiberte, Jason Olive, Brennan Mejia, Carlo Mendez
release US 28.Jan.11, UK 10.Jun.11
10/US 1h23
Finding myself: Temple and Dekker

lynch duval araki
london film fest
london l&g film fest
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Kaboom As this scruffy coming-of-age sex comedy turns into a horror movie, the combination is completely disarming. It's both silly and creepy, with honest subtext about youthful searching and the complexities of human sexuality.

Just starting university, 18-year-old Smith (Dekker) hasn't decided yet whether he's gay or straight. It doesn't help that his often naked roommate Thor (Zylka) claims to be straight despite evidence to the contrary. His best pal is the sardonic Stella (Bennett), who has a crush on a hot girl (Mesquida). Yes, everyone's obsessed with sex, and they're experimenting rather a lot. But Smith is also haunted by nightmarish dreams about a redhead (LaLiberte). And when these dreams start invading real life, he's not sure what to do about it.

With clearly autobiographical touches, such as Smith's major in film studies, there's a ring of truth in the way writer-director Araki approaches the various situations, most of which are played for comedy value. Then the story turns into a feverish thriller, as Smith is chased by men in animal heads, like a humorous take on another dreamy drama, Donnie Darko. All of this is underscored with the fact that these young people are trying to find themselves through knowledge, sex and a growing sense that there's something bigger out there.

The film is shot in a lurid, colourful style that, besides looking gorgeous, effectively gets us into the minds of the characters, especially when Araki uses visual trickery to portray dreams, drug trips and sexuality. And as things get darker and creepier, he keeps things tightly focussed on the characters, which keeps us engaged even when the plot starts to get rather nutty. It also helps that the solid cast is hugely likable.

The narrative takes some wacky turns along the way, with hints of voodoo, witchcraft and a freaky new world order cult. Most of this is linked to dreams, but there seem to be supernatural things going on as well, so the film turns into a bewildering, wildly complicated thriller in which pretty much anything can happen. What's clever is that as it heads for its manic conclusion, it can also be read as a madcap voyage to self-discovery.

cert 15 themes, language, vulgarity, sexuality, violence 25.Oct.10 lff

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