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Now Apocalypse

(Gregg Araki, TV series, one season, Starz, USA, March-May 2019)


 


Gregg Araki is a director who sticks to his signature style and content. Entering the spotlight with the ultra-low-budget The Living End (1992) as part of the American New Queer Cinema explosion of that time, Araki swiftly set out the panoply of his obsessions. Transgressive sexuality (all combinations of bodies are possible), punk nihilism (our world is surely doomed) and unhinged conspiracy theories (aliens are infiltrating the system) – all wrapped in a flagrantly cartoonish style (with an emphasis on garish primary colours), and speckled with a thousand and one current pop culture references. (You can watch a wonderful audiovisual essay by Laura Lammer that boils it all down here.) The Doom Generation (1995) marked, in those years, the best of his breathless die-young-stay-pretty fantasias.

 

In the period since, only once has Araki really veered toward anything resembling the cinema mainstream – the delightful stoner comedy Smiley Face (2007), which also happens to be his best film, in no small part due to the prodigious inventiveness of its star, Anna Faris. And only twice has Araki’s general love for everything fast-paced, hedonistic and superficial given way to darker, underlying themes of abuse and broken families, in Mysterious Skin (2004) and the underrated White Bird in a Blizzard (2014).

 

Araki has also dabbled in television, assigned to episodes of Red Oaks, Riverdale, Heathers and even the dreadful 13 Reasons Why – whether he likes it or not, he has become associated with the reigning nostalgia for 1980s teenpics. But he never seems entirely at ease in this line of work.  Thanks to an opportunity provided by executive producers Steven Soderbergh and Gregory Jacobs, Araki plunged in and shot 10 x 30 minute episodes of Now Apocalypse in 40 days – and, one assumes, in total creative freedom. The cast includes Avan Jogia and Roxane Mesquida (from Philippe Grandrieux’s Despite the Night [2015]), with hip singer-activist Henry Rollins making a cameo.

 

Written by Araki with trendy sexologist Karley Sciortino (of Slutever blog fame), Now Apocalypse is an in-your-face parade of polysexual humping, lurid design schemes, lifestyle satire, and – peeking in now and again, and still completely unresolved by the end of season 1 – a grand, overarching plot line involving (you guessed it) aliens, conspiracy and the looming end of humankind.

 

In the generally static crawl of this director’s career, it’s Kaboom (2010) territory all over again. But the editing structure of most episodes – frantically intercutting between three separate, simultaneous interactions, and finding the ironic echoes and correspondences between them – generates much wicked fun, and almost dares us to forget that the story is (traditionally) meant to lead somewhere conclusive.

 

For the moment, this season has proved to be a one-off: Starz cancelled the show in July 2019, and Araki is said to be shopping it around elsewhere. We’ll see.


© Adrian Martin April 2019


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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