Before “Now Apocalypse”: Revisiting Gregg Araki’s Groundbreaking Queer Films

"Now Apocalypse" premieres Sunday, March 10 on Starz.

If Gregg Araki is to be believed, then the world is going to end in a neon explosion of hedonistic desire—and it’s going to be sexy AF. Ever since he helped usher in the New Queer Wave of ’90s cinema, the American director has filtered his own nihilistic take on teen life through films like Kaboom (2010), The Living End (1992), and his now infamous Teen Apocalypse Trilogy.
 

Back in 2000, TV wasn’t quite ready for Araki’s unique worldview. MTV commissioned and then subsequently canceled his show This Is How the World Ends after just one episode, but now, almost 20 years later, Araki is finally bringing his delightfully deranged take on queerness to the small screen in full.

Now Apocalypse, his new Starz comedy, perfectly distills the essence of Araki’s best films into half-hour chunks of pure gratification. Sex, fame, and bizarre conspiracies combine to create one of the strangest shows you’ll ever inject into your eyeballs.

At the center of it all is the heartthrob duo Avan Jogia and Tyler Posey.

Starz

Together they play horny stoner boyfriends who have already captured the hearts and minds of obsessive stan accounts worldwide. This formula is nothing new to Araki though. If the likes of Twitter and Tumblr had existed before the new millennium, then the beautiful stoners and rebels who populated his earlier films would have amassed an obsessive following, too.

From Jordan White of 1995’s The Doom Generation to Neil McCormick in 2004’s Mysterious Skin, Araki’s boys are still some of the most fascinating to ever grace our screens. Each of his films are very much of their era, operating like moving time capsules of teenage sexuality, yet the male protagonists who star in these movies are still ahead of their time. In their own way, all of them reframe traditional concepts of masculinity through a radical and often queer lens.
 

Cult classic The Living End is unapologetically queer from the get-go, reclaiming the AIDS narrative with two gay HIV positive leads who embark on a dangerous crime spree. Clearly inspired by the release of Thelma & Louise just one year earlier, Araki’s breakout film reshaped the gloom of traditional AIDS stories into something far more mischievous and even celebratory. Who can forget when Jon and Luke jokingly planned to inject President Bush with their blood to speed up the government’s response to AIDS?

The love that Jon and Luke share is intensely rebellious and there’s a raw strength to be found in their nihilism, which is intensified by the looming presence of death. Despite their similarities, the male protagonists of later films like Nowhere and Kaboom weren’t quite as fixated on death. However, they still continued to blur the boundaries of reality and taste even further via polyamorous sexcapades and psychedelic encounters with the occasional alien cockroach.

Detractors of Araki’s work often struggle to move past the excess and chaos that defines his style, yet the way his films explore the confines of masculinity is actually more truthful precisely because of this. None of his protagonists can easily be defined as either heroes or villains. They simply exist, complete with all of the messy strengths and insecurities that men deal with in real life, too.

Of course, not everyone’s teen angst manifests itself in the form of drug experimentation and extreme violence. Araki is often criticized for writing shallow, underdeveloped characters, but under their teenage detachment lurks a far more truthful portrayal of masculinity than the director is often given credit for.
 

Even in less experimental fare like Mysterious Skin, Araki dissects male trauma without ever indulging in stereotypes. Neither masc nor femme in a traditional sense, Brian and Neil are different and real in ways that most portrayals of young queer men struggle to capture. Their sexuality is integral to their identity, but it’s also not the absolute, and this is a fine line that other queer filmmakers continue to miss the mark on even now.

In his now infamous zero-star review of The Doom Generation, movie critic Roger Ebert wrote that Araki just “wants to make a blood-soaked, disgusting, disturbing movie about characters of low intelligence and little personal worth.” While that’s all technically true (in the best way possible), such criticism ignores how important it is for art to sometimes polarize audiences in order to break through barriers.

After all, more than 20 years have passed since Xavier licked his own cum off his hand in Doom, and yet, mainstream films still shy away from showing two men locking lips.

Still, much has changed since the New Queer Wave of ’90s cinema was in its prime. More than two decades later, it looks like mainstream audiences might be ready to finally embrace Araki’s unique brand of queerness in Now Apocalypse, and even if they’re not, it’s not the end of the world—no matter how much his films might suggest otherwise.
 

Now Apocalypse premieres March 10 on Starz.

David is a British journalist who loves horror, superheroes and queer cinema, which is why he regularly pesters Xavier Dolan to direct an adaptation of Marvel Zombies.
@DavidOpie