Directed by Gaspar Noé.
Starring Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer, and Taylor Kastle.
When a contemporary dance troupe have wrapped rehearsal for their 90s infused choreographed set-piece, they decide to throw a party to celebrate. What they don’t know is that someone has spiked the punch, and what starts out as a good natured boogie to the likes of Daft Punk and Soft Cell, soon descends into bloody hedonism.
Gaspar Noé is all up in your grill again with ninety minutes of garish excess that might as well be called “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight”, although you can add self-mutilation, flaming scalps, and suicide to that heady concoction. Whether you walk to its beat or not is another question altogether.
Setting his stall out from the off, Noé hints that this particular party isn’t going to be slow-dancing to Lady in Red by the end, instead presenting us with a different kind of rouge, as a woman stumbles through the snow, making a sound indistinguishable between laugher and pain, but leaving a smattering of blood on the pristine white blanket. It’s a stark piece of imagery in a movie littered with such moments.
We then get a montage of audition interviews from the main cast which plays out on an old TV, and it’s here where we’re left in no doubt as to what Noé is aiming for; a flurry of soundbites that range from pretentious to ambitious, all sandwiched on a shelf between copies of Suspiria and the works of Fritz Lang, or Possession and Taxi Driver. Before the baseline kicks in, and if you didn’t know it already, he’s making you aware that this is going to be an unpleasant trip.
What the journey is about is anyone’s guess, but you can draw parallels between the unravelling thread of this one night, and what Darren Aronofsky was trying to say about the collapse of society with his world-gone-to-shit ending of mother! The cast are all disenfranchised youths, unsure of their place in the world, and with a disdain for their surroundings. A huge Tricolour hangs behind the DJ booth at the start of the film, when the pulsating choreography of the first dance number kicks in, but it soon becomes indistinguishable from the overbearing red filter that engulfs the screen. All identity is lost.
As for the musical routines, they’re shot complimenting the brilliance of the performer rather than the need for any outstanding camera work. During the two main set-pieces, the gaze remains head-on or overhead, as a flurry of contorting bodies writhe to the beat. Some might find it too much, wanting to reach for the talent show buzzer, but it’s hard not to become hypnotized by the fluidity of the movement.
Such extended scenes might be particularly difficult to stomach if you’re looking for narrative, because beyond a couple of relationship issues, and the poisoning of the punch, the propulsion comes from the music, or the way in which we follow this disparate group down dark corridors to their next strange confrontation or dead end. A through line or closure is not on offer here.
Conversations range from the frustratingly juvenile, especially from the more unbearable characters, which to be honest is most of them, to the kind of pompous nonsense which compliments the occasional title card that pops up on-screen exclaiming things like “Birth is a unique opportunity”.
In terms of the cast, Climax gives Sofia Boutella the opportunity to showcase her ability as a physical performer, something that’s been prevalent in her standout roles in The Mummy and Star Trek Beyond. Even though she sometimes gets lost in the crowd, her character Selva is the one we spend most time looking over the shoulder with as the darkness descends.
It goes without saying that this won’t be for everyone, and in terms of Noé’s oeuvre it’s very tame when it comes to explicit shock value, but it’s a unique trip, and a trip it is, one with a stunning soundtrack and distinctive view finder, which you may or may not regret peering through.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt