Run Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Stars: Sofia Boutella, Romaine Guillermic
Writer/Director: Gaspar Noé
It would be wrong of me to actually recommend that everyone see Climax, Gaspar Noé’s throbbing, nightmarish, perversely enthralling film about a French dance troupe tripping out on LSD. Still, there’s no denying the director’s diabolic skill at ushering his audience from one circle of Hell to another…and in fact sparking anticipation of what new awful, can’t-unsee-it spectacle is lurking just around the next dark corner.
Noé has made his career as an unsurpassed provocateur:Irreversible (2002) began with a brutal rape and then depicted the events leading up to it in reverse; Enter the Void (2009) followed the soul of a murdered drug dealer as he observed the brutal effects of his demise. Love (2015) was less about love than about sex, and lots of it.
In Climax, we meet the young, ambitious dancers one by one as they tell their backstories to a video camera. They gather for an intensive weekend of rehearsals in a remote, snow-bound facility, and as you’d expect from a sweaty, scantily clad group like this, a party breaks out the first evening. But soon everybody starts feeling a little, well, weird. Someone, it seems, has spiked the sangria.
Spiraling into a frenzied mania, the dancers turn alternately violent and amorous toward each other — or else they plummet into self-obsessed terror. Noé follows them through the winding halls of the building, mercilessly focusing on one character’s nightmare for a time, then shifting his attention to another unfortunate. Occasionally, while passing an open door, we’ll get a glimpse of yet another victim in horrible duress.
Not everyone gets out alive, and some of those who do may wish they hadn’t.
Simulating the characters’ psychological descent, Noé’s filmmaking becomes nearly incomprehensible toward the end — for much of the final 15 minutes or so, the camera is literally upside-down.
It’s all disorienting and at times downright mind-numbing. Is Noé is trying to depict the thin veil that exists between art and madness? Or the ease with which society can devolve into anarchy? Or perhaps Noé is just being Noé, once more dipping his toe into the hot lava of Hades just because he can.
Still, worth the price of admission is the film’s explosive opening dance number: Sweeping and swirling, Noés camera stalks the cast for 10 minutes of pounding, unedited energy. It’s a bravura bit of filmmaking, as exhilarating as any filmed musical number you’ll ever see.
But you might want to close your eyes when they start dipping their cups into that punch bowl.