With “The Doom Generation,” his fifth and most audacious film to date, L.A. guerrilla filmmaker Gregg Araki proves that, given a reasonable budget (less than $ 1 million), he can produce a stunning film with superlative production values. A nihilistic comedy about a trio of alienated youngsters, pic is bold not only in its art design, but also in its narrative and tone, a mixture of satire and horror, with heavy dosage of steamy sex and macabre violence. Effort calls for an entrepreneurial distributor that knows how to target young hip audiences to fulfill pic’s potential as a hot cult movie.
The breakthrough film Araki’s followers have been waiting for, “The Doom Generation” is his biggest, most ambitious and most accomplished work. It stands in sharp contrast to his previous modest, unassuming low-budgeter, “Totally F***ed Up.” Thematically, though, this film continues to explore issues that prevailed in that film as well as in “The Living End,” a look at the desperate, albeit hilarious odyssey of two HIV-positive men.
New outing is also structured as an apocalyptic journey into the unknown — America’s wastelands — but this time the road comedy is hallucinatory and psychedelic, in a style reminiscent of “Natural Born Killers,” though blessedly lacking Oliver Stone’s blatant message and obvious satire.
Amy Blue (Rose McGowan), a beautiful, spoiled 17-year-old, her sweet suburban b.f. Jordan White (James Duval) and Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech), a mysterious drifter, embark on an outlandish trip after Xavier blows off the head of a convenience-store clerk. The trio flee into a bizarre world of nightmarish violence and omnipresent danger that gets darker and darker as their odyssey progresses.
Pic’s “quieter” moments are provided by stops along the road, in fantastically designed motels, in which the threesome explore their anomie — and sexuality. Their continuously changing relationships know no rules. It’s no big deal if Amy has sex with true-love Jordan and supernatural stud Xavier. For a film bluntly described in the opening titles as “heterosexual,” story is overripe with homoerotic overtones.
While all three are “free-floating” lost souls, they represent different philosophies of life, which refuse to be defined by either sexual or ethical orientation. A product of middle-class suburbia, Jordan, the only kid who has both parents, is naive, romantic and none too bright. A modern Lolita, with a touch of Bonnie Parker, Amy’s aggressive, foul-mouthed femme is more amoral than immoral.
The most enigmatic — and menacing — figure is Xavier, whose insatiable libido can be satisfied by voyeuristic masturbation as well as active participation. Violence comes naturally to him — it’s one of the film’s running jokes that whenever the trio stop for fries and drinks, someone ends up dying.
Narrative assumes the shape of a nihilistic ballad, reflected in the music — Jesus and Mary Chain, Nine Inch Nails, Porno for Pyros.
Most of the film’s violence is played tongue-in-cheek, with hilarious stagings of a severed head or amputated arm flying through the air. However, the violence in the finale is unexpectedly harsh and gruesome, almost assuring an NC-17 rating.
Yet — and this is Araki’s greatest achievement –“The Doom Generation” is a coherent work; nothing in the film is exploitative.
Stylistically, Araki may have been inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” and Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.” Assisted by a talented team, most notably lenser Jim Fealy and production designer Therese Deprez, every tableau and color configuration is breathtaking. Pic’s last image is particularly haunting, as the screen gradually turns monochromatic and the car zooms into the vast, open horizon.
In the lead role, the debuting McGowan is incredibly photogenic, commanding the screen with the ease and assuredness of a pro. Duval, who looks and acts like a younger Keanu Reeves, renders a quieter perf, while Schaech projects the kind of eroticism that’s both appealing and repellent.
Stylishly yet personally expressive, “The Doom Generation” marks an innovative turning point in Araki’s career.