Argentinian director Gaspar Noe doesn’t have an extensive filmography. But the controversial filmmaker’s penchant for pushing boundaries has made his movies ‘must see’ experiences for cinephiles. His brutal 2002 movie, Irreversible, and its fire extinguisher scene, was a defining entry in the New French Extremity movement. His latest movie, Climax, has been no less divisive. Loosely based on a real event, Climax follows an ensemble dance troupe whose rehearsal party spirals out of control after someone spikes their drinks with acid. Artsy, pretentious excess or brilliant visual trip? Climax proves to be a little of each.
At an abandoned school, a large dance troupe finishes an exhausting rehearsal. As the evening gives way to dancing, drinking, and partying, rivalries, jealousy, and insecurities emerge. But when someone punches the sangria with LSD, things quickly spiral out of control. Soon thereafter, the evening descends into a drug-fuelled nightmare.
Climax Visually Innovative, Hallucinogenic Horror
Though Climax is technically not a horror movie, Noe’s hallucinogenic drama will evoke more discomfort than most horror movies released this year. Nothing in this movie approaches Noe’s earlier, more transgressive movies. On one hand, Climax includes some uncomfortably violent images, there’s nothing here quite as upsetting as what you’d find in Irreversible. Nonetheless, Noe’s faux documentary approach – with events unfolding methodically – makes the relatively spare moments of violence more shocking.
…Climax perfectly captures the experience of a drug-infused nightmare.
Yet with no real story of which to speak, it’s Climax’s innovative visual style that separates it from other movies. Arguably, Noe intended his latest movie to be an experience, not a a narrative. In this regard, Climax perfectly captures the experience of a drug-infused nightmare. Everything opens at the movie’s conclusion with a stunning above-camera shot of a character stumbling through the snow. Somehow Noe balances no less than 24 different characters. This is in part accomplished through a clever first act that sees an off-camera character interview the dancers as part of an audition. Prior to the horror and paranoia, Climax dazzles with a long-take dance sequence that’s nothing short of mesmerizing. As the drugs take hold, Noe bathes his movie in pulsating red and greens, allowing the camera to follow characters through claustrophobically narrow halls. Climax is a stunning technical accomplishment.
Lack of Story and Long Dialogue-Heavy Takes May Loses Some Viewers
Despite Noe’s technical prowess, Climax’s lack of story leaves the movie feeling directionless. It’s an issue exacerbated by Noe’s long takes and dialogue-heavy first two acts. Nearly 40 to 45 minutes of the movie eavesdrops in on characters’ conversations. While it adds to Climax’s ‘cinema verite’ feel and grittiness, it often leaves long gaps lacking any sense of momentum. And Noe certainly uses the dialogue to individualize his ensemble cast and later infuse the nightmarish acid trip. But it’s not economical and falls short of slow-burn. You’ll feel discomfort by the movie’s conclusion while still questioning the point of what you just saw.
Mostly Amateur Cast Adds To Climax’s Grimy ’Docu-Feel’
Aside from Sofia Boutella, Climax’s ensemble cast is filled with professional dancers with little or no acting background. And it works. In fact, the performers’ lack of acting experience, paired with the natural dialogue, only add to the movie’s queasy sense of reality. All the performers acquit themselves quite well. Though a few individuals get lost amidst the large ensemble, it’s impressive just how many of the characters stand out and feel fully fleshed out. Without any real story, it’s these characters who will transfix you for much of the movie’s runtime. As for Boutella, she delivers an intense, off-kilter performance that holds the movie together.
Climax a Bizarre, Psychologically Jarring Thriller
That Climax may be Gaspar Noe’s most accessible movie is very unlikely to translate into mainstream affection. With style and innovation to spare, Climax is less a movie and more of an experience. There’s no story of which to speak, but that’s kind of the point. To watch Noe’s latest movie is to take a psychologically jarring trip into a drug-fuelled nightmare. You may never want to watch Climax again, but you won’t be able to turn away from it. And you’ll never forget seeing it.