Sunday, January 23, 2011

A child with a toy (in this case, a camera) is still a child.

The Doom Generation (1995)
Independantly made (of course)
Starring James Duval, Rose McGowan, Johnathon Schaech (who's looks have the tendency to remind me of Jim Morrison only even more demented)
Written and directed by Gregg Araki
Rated NC-17 (For graphic sex, (supposedly) adult-intended violence, wildly exaggerated frat-themed mayhem, general annoyance/irritation factor, going to childish lengths at attempts to shock and offend audience)
Length: 82 minutes

"Craig! No, no, no. No no! OMG! Just saw Quickie Mart on utube (Doom generation). No more.. Lol!"

That was an actual text message sent my way by a good friend of mine on January 22, 2011 at 9:14 PM after he had apparently discovered for the very first time a notorious scene from Gregg Araki's The Doom Generation on Youtube, and obviously he was so stunned at what he saw that his message carried uncharacteristic (for him) typos. See, he had expressed interest in seeing the film because he had heard that Skinny Puppy have a cameo in it, and I immediately warned him strongly against seeing it, citing The Mutant Reviewers From Hell's own bludgeoned observations after subjecting themselves to this thing. I myself had only recently gotten around to seeing it: after reading said comments from said Mutant Reviewers years ago, I had sworn to myself that I would avoid this movie like the plague.

Well, I finally gave in to curiosity simply because I wanted to discover for myself what all the wretching was about, an act I normally don't do in situations like this, and am happy to report that I actually survived this movie with my brain completely intact. Yes, I know that the violence is intended to be incredibly gruesome. Yes, I know that the language is horrendous, that the movie is offensive, grotesque, etc. But there are reasons I was able to survive this film so well, and I'll get to those in a minute.

The Doom Generation is intended both as a wild parody of teenage road movies and an excuse to attempt shocking the audience. There really isn't very much of a plot, if at all: the film starts off in a wild underground dance club where we first see everyone thrashing around to NIN as we then see the cut-out words "Welcome to Hell" in the wall with flames torching behind them. We first meet agitated Amy Blue (Rose McGowan) expressing her disgusted annoyance with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. We then are introduced to Jordan White (James Duval, who you may recall from Donnie Darko), who appears as a highly naive but basically good kid. The two have only been an item for about three months or so, and as Amy remarks on how she wants to get out of the place, Jordan suggests, "Want to go to heaven?"

We then cut to see them going at it in Amy's car while pondering the pros and cons of going all the way, when suddenly Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech) invades the car after a violent brawl with a gang of goons portrayed by none other than Skinny Puppy in that cameo I mentioned previously. Off they go on an odyssey that has them "heading north" in random fashion, stopping for various variations of wildly exaggerated fast food along the way while Amy keeps getting persistently mistaken for somebody's ex who always vows to kill her, Xavier always ends up killing someone, and afterwards they end up staying in some hotel or other while Xavier always challenges their notions of sexuality, normality, freedom, morals, etc.

Okay, first, the two things I genuinely liked about this film: the hallucinogenic art design and soundtrack. Say what you will about The Doom Generation, it has cool set design even if it is obvious that the budget was scraped from the bottom of a local barrel and wasn't able to pay for what Araki really had in mind. Everything in this film is unbelievably over-the-top, from the pool hall (which is decked out entirely in tin foil) to the grotesque hot dogs they buy at the Quickie Mart. The whole thing suggests a tripped-out nightmare, as though the entire movie is being broadcast through Amy's (who is apparently on crystal the entire film according to what everybody says) drug-enduced point of view and not the genuine reality as seen and experienced by the others. How much of this is real and how much is imagined? (Or, as Jordan puts it at one point, "Ever feel like reality is more twisted than dreams?") I especially liked the black-and-white checkerboard motel room they check into at one point, complete with matching towels. Add to this the fact that The Doom Generation boasts a hot soundtrack, and even though only half of its tracks are available on its soundtrack album it is still worth getting; amazingly, while the movie itself is so determined to be wild, the the soundtrack album release tends to be startlingly beautiful. Check it out sometime if you ever have a few bucks to spare on a used Amazon copy and see if you don't agree.

Too bad the rest of this film is such an atrocious waste. This flick only goes to show that just because you may know how to direct a camera and visuals doesn't necessarily mean you're a good writer with accompanying vision. I found the visuals gross and repulsive, but I actually wasn't grossed out as Araki intended me to be. That's because of two reasons: one, the special effects look incredibly fake and unconvincing, almost to a Goth level, and two, I knew that being grossed out was precisely the reaction Araki wanted me to have. I didn't fall for it, plain and simple; while I'm sure that there are a lot of teens and college-age kids who will all undoubtedly squeal with delight over the notion of seeing so much "objectionable" material in a feature film, older and more mature viewers will see right through it.

They know that other directors -- like oh, say, Quentin Tarantino -- have attempted this approach before. The difference is that other such directors have counterbalanced such an approach with strong, fascinating characters, a good storyline, and dialogue that was at least reasonably intelligent. When watching The Doom Generation, the term "immature" came to mind.

Weirdly, the whole thing also comes across as a film student's project as opposed to a major motion picture; how did this thing manage to get backing and into major theater chains? If it was made for Youtube or was just an independant film showing in small art houses I could be a lot less perplexed by it, as it has all the look and feel of something made in a garage or on a college campus somewhere (obvious wigs and the like add to this impression immensely). But then again, this was made in the age before Youtube, and this was pretty much the only way you could get a movie out there, although I'm still perplexed as to how it happened.

As I say, the whole thing has a strangely surreal feel to it, like the trio have managed to slip into an alternate reality somewhere; as they keep musing to each other in colourful terms, they're just as perplexed as we are and we get the impression that things seemed fairly normally in their lives in terms of surroundings before this film started. I still say that the film may actually be being seen through the eyes of Amy Blue, who constantly reminds us of how she's speeding throughout the entire film and thus explains all the bizarre goings on. In short, the film needs a tad more explanation; while I admit it is fun to stare at and theorize over it a la The Blair Witch Project and try to decipher as to whether that is indeed the case, it feels incomplete both conceptually and physically. And somehow, that shot at the end when their car is seen driving forlornly off into the distance to a haunting little tune that has since become a face of mine has enough of a small hint of beauty to remind me that this film could have been so much more in more capable hands.

Bottom line: if you're feeling particularly adventurous for something unique, then maybe you might want to take a chance on this thing just for a change of pace... otherwise, I can't really recommend it.