|The Doom Generation
1995 - unrated - 85 Mins.
|Director: Gregg Araki
|Starring: Johnathon Schaech, Rose McGowan, James Duval, Margaret Cho, Christopher Knight
|Review by: Bill King
During the 1995 Honolulu International Film Festival (now called the Hawaii International Film Festival), I met film critic Roger Ebert at a book signing. During the Q&A session, someone asked him what the worst movie of the year was. He responded with "The Doom Generation" as the worst film of 1995. (Later on "Siskel & Ebert", he named "Mr. Payback" as the worst film of that year.) When most of the crowd was gone, I got a chance to speak with him, and I found him to be one of the most interesting people I've ever met. He told me personally not to see "The Doom Generation." How often does a respected film critic tell you to your face not to see a movie? I didn't see it for three years, then on cable in 1997, I just happened to come across the ending. That got me interested and I decided to see it in its entirety. In retrospect, it's not such a bad movie, but there's certainly nothing good about it either.
The first word that the viewer will hear in the movie is the f-word, exclaimed by Amy Blue (Rose McGowan). I guess any film that has the nerve to just blatantly utter that word in the opening scene is asking for trouble. The movie's dialogue immediately plummets into unheard-of obscenities, as Amy argues with a stoned guy at a party. She leaves with her empty-headed boyfriend Jordan White (James Duval), and in the parking lot, a drifter jumps into their car as a gang chases after him. His name is Xavier Red (Johnathon Schaech), and by now you've probably noticed their last names. Only Amy's last name is mentioned in the movie; no one ever mentions the guys' last names. Xavier's dialogue is every bit as vile as Amy's, and during the course of the movie, they exchange vulgarities the way boxers exchange punches.
Writer/director Gregg Araki pulls no punches in depicting the depravity of his characters, as well as the sickness of the road trip that the trio takes. After Amy drops off Xavier, she and Jordan stop at a gas station to buy some snacks. They're missing their wallets, and when the cashier threatens to shoot them, Xavier shows up and wrestles with the guy. The gun goes off and the clerk's head flies through the air and lands in the relish. His severed head wakes up and pukes. There is something eerily funny about this, and basically that is Araki's point. He's trying to shock the viewers by displaying gruesome deaths with a humorous edge. It works occasionally, but after awhile, I was worn out by the movie's constant bombardment of sleaze.
"The Doom Generation" doesn't have much of a plot. It more or less follows this outline: The trio stops to rest, and someone is killed. Not only are their deaths sickening, but Araki shoves them in our faces. One man who has his arm blown off is trying to break into Amy's car. The man strategically places the end of his arm on the window so that we can see the blood dripping down. Another man is stabbed in the crotch with a sword, and the camera lingers on the scene while blood squirts out. The violence is carried out to such extremes that the movie resembles a "Faces of Death" outtakes segment. The violence is accompanied by such smarmy dialogue that we keep asking ourselves what the point of all this is.
Despite the shallow framework, the movie is watchable on a really perverse level. That's probably the only way to make it through this movie. Taken as serious, the movie fails. Taken as satire, the movie slips. Araki includes several "celebrity" cameos, but none of them do anything of consequence. It's as if Araki used them because they all owed him favors. The violent ending is the movie's most notorious scene, and might separate some viewers from their lunch. I found it to be less shocking than it could have been. Araki hides much of the action with flickering lights that are probably intended to stun the viewer subliminally, though I think the ending could have had a bigger impact if the lights were omitted.
"The Doom Generation" is the second of Araki's Teen Apocalypse Trilogy. The first was "Totally F***ed Up," an absolutely vile piece of trash. The third is "Nowhere," a dreamy yet unfocused movie about wayward teens. This second entry is actually the best, which isn't saying much because it ranks as mediocre.
I didn't follow Mr. Ebert's advice, and I liked it more than he did, but we can both agree that "The Doom Generation" is a movie that is corrupt and depraved.