This Gregg Araki film isn’t much more than an entertaining polysexual indie gloss on 1980s-style teen pix, with a lot of goings-on on campus as bewildered, mostly gay hero Smith (Thomas Dekker) goes through the usual ups and downs of student life – crushing on his straight surfer roomie Thor (Chris Zylka), who walks about nude and does weird bend exercises in the hope of being able to fellate himself, and helping his lesbian best bud Stella (Haley Bennett) cope with her genuine witch ex Lorelei (Roxane Mesquida), while enjoying recreational sex with kook London (Juno Temple) and a random stranger on the beach (Jason Olive). However, weird shit is also happening – a red-haired girl (Nicole LaLiberte) either disappears and turns up dismembered in a dumpster as Smith has foreseen in a dream involving his strange cult leader father or is still about (maybe as her twin sister) and sliding into the gutter, and men in animal masks stalk the campus, perhaps at the behest of the millennial cult, who may have stashed enough atomic weapons to bring about their prophesied end of the world. Everyone turns out to be in on something, as Smith realises he is ‘the chosen one’ but wishes he weren’t, and different factions for or against the cult kidnap him and his friends (and his mother, Kelly Lynch) while he sometimes finds he has psychic powers.
It’s a highly-coloured comic book picture with an Araki sensibility – as if Pedro Almodovar were more into X-Men and Dario Argento than Douglas Sirk and Joan Crawford (if Marvel Comics really want to push the boat out, they should hire Araki for one of their more colourful franchises: Runaways or Young Avengers). It has a flip, presumably downbeat ending – a bit like the punchline of Charles Band’s End of the World – but I’d still like to see a sequel pick up all these characters. Araki has a knack of casting fresh faces who ought to be major stars within the next three years – Dekker, who made his debut as one of the creepy kids in John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned, is quizzical, appealing and a little out of it as the understandably discombobulated hero, but everyone around him fizzes with the film’s energy. Obviously a gay-friendly film, it has a surprising amount of straight sex, with Juno Temple – on the brink of big things, I suspect – very funny, sexy and peculiar as the girl who picks up Smith (she turns out to be his half-sister) but also gives a dimwit bisexual jock a lecture on proper cunnilingus techniques that deserves a place in any anthology of frank talk.