Watching The Doom Generation for the first time – because somehow, I’d managed to not see the film before – is a strangely emotional experience. From the moment the film opens up with Trent Reznor screaming “your God is dead and no-one cares”, it dragged me back to a point in my life that I have a lot of affection for… days of hanging out at industrial fetish clubs where Nine Inch Nails and Ministry thundered out of the sound system; of dark, sweaty gigs; of the whole mid-Nineties rock ‘n’ roll, extreme cinema, kinky sex and transgressive culture scene that I was smack in the middle of, and that film is so completely tied into. It feels like another world now, and watching this film, grounded as it is in that period, is kinda weird.
Of course, The Doom Generation is a fiction, and a very stylised one at that. Part teen rebellion, part splatter movie, part road movie, it’s like an industrial version of Natural Born Killers – though ironically far less subversive and edgy, and with a teenage couple who are more accidental accessories than killers. Rose McGowan is speed freak Amy, who hangs out with her rather dopey boyfriend Jordan (James Duval), trying to be tough and cool. When they inadvertently rescue older drifter Xavier (Johnathon Schaech), who is getting a beat down from a gang of skaters (in reality Skinny Puppy – one of several self-consciously cool cameos in the film, others including Perry Farrell and Heidi Fleiss), the pair find themselves caught up in an increasing spiral of unexpected violence. Starting when Xavier attacks an over-zealous supermarket clerk who has pulled a gun on Amy – and blows his head off in the struggle – the three seem to just attract trouble, something not helped by the fact that they constantly run into people who claim to know Amy (under a variety of names) and have an obsessive, violent love for her. On the run, it’s not long before Amy and Xavier are hooking up, though Xavier seems more interested in Jordan (the opening titles call this ‘a heterosexual Gregg Araki film’, but you should take that with a pinch of salt) but the doomed threesome can’t stay out of trouble for long.
Achingly cool, The Doom Generation is very much an exercise in style over content – for all the sex and violence, once you look back at the film you realise that not a lot happens for much of the running time. It’s to Araki’s credits that he can take a slight story of teen rebellion gone wrong and spread it out so well. There’s a sense of unreality about the film – weird, avant-garde motel rooms, a sense of displacement (most of the exteriors seem to be in the middle of nowhere) and snappy dialogue that no-one would ever really say make it one step away from normality – and moments of comedic bad taste like the severed head that continues to splutter outrage just add to the off-kilter atmosphere.
For all the talk of the film’s violence, this is actually more about sex. McGowan is like a smouldering volcano – just waiting for the right man (that’d be Schaech) to bring out the sexual desires that her fumbling, frustrated relationship with her puppy-dog boyfriend can never fulfil, and then feeling disgust afterwards. She’s extraordinarily sexy (and would it be wrong to say she looks incredible naked? It would? Too bad – she does…). Meanwhile, the homoerotic relationship of the two guys is remarkably intense – one point before the shockingly violent finale has them sat naked together, looking for all the world like two gay porn stars about to fuck…. Which they clearly were, had things not taken a particularly brutal turn.
Cool, smart, funny and sexy, The Doom Generation now feels like a world away – it’s hard to imagine a film like this being made today. Yet conversely, it hasn’t really dated – though I await a nineteen year old to tell me otherwise. Either way, it’s a very enjoyable slice of sex, drugs, violence and transgression. This new addition comes complete with a nice Severin-produced interview with Araki and a chatty commentary with the director and three stars.