Directed by Gaspar Noé.
Starring Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, and Sharleen Temple.
A group of dancers rehearsing in an empty school building have their drink spiked with LSD, resulting in hellish consequences.
‘Escalation’ is a word that gets used quite a lot in film but there aren’t many filmmakers currently working that perfectly encapsulate what that means and how to quantify it as effectively as Gaspar Noé, the creative mind behind such family favourites as Irreversible, Love and Enter the Void, all movies that have courted controversy not only for graphic depictions of sex and violence but also of distorting the structure of movie storytelling and playing with expectations.
To the casual viewer – if Noé attracts such a thing – Climax is probably more of the same but there are a few tweaks here and there that mark it out as a little different to those previously mentioned movies, namely the explicit nature of said sex and violence. But before all the faithful Gaspar Noé fans turn away in disgust, this is not a watered down version of what has gone before; indeed, the filmmaker is still as confrontational and gleefully mad as ever but there is a restraint here, where it isn’t what he shows you that is shocking but the overall atmosphere and vibe feels just off from the opening shot right through to the closing scenes, conjuring up a sensory experience that feels rooted in some sort of intangible force that is just omnipresent but never fully exposed.
There is no real plot to Climax and that gives it a very experimental feel, like Noé really thought he’d put a group of people in a room, give them loads of drugs and see what happens by following them around with his camera. That really is the film but there has to be some narrative glue that binds the characters together and so the people are a group of dancers, varying characters each with a backstory and possibly several traits/insecurities/issues that could come into play later on, and we are cleverly introduced to them through brief interview footage at the beginning of the film that gives you an idea of what to expect before we are thrown into the first of many dance routines designed to heighten the senses as everybody gets their turn in the spotlight, the camera perching itself so each movement looks like it is set up to hypnotise you with a combination of pumping music and fluid movement which, given what is follows, is probably the idea. From then on in Noé follows the characters around like an angel (or devil) on their shoulder as everybody’s interactions with each other start to get more frenzied, vicious and overly sexual as it transpires the sangria they have been drinking all night has been spiked with LSD.
As is Noé’s trademark, there are structural flourishes designed to throw you – like the opening logos starting at nine minutes into the film, the actual title sequence starting halfway through and the closing titles playing at the beginning – but these feel a bit unnecessary as film didn’t really need to be any more disorienting than it already is, with the shaky camera and uneven lighting playing havoc with your eyes but in the way that Noé intends, giving you glimpses of bad things happening but never lingering for too long on any one person or event. With the moving camera also comes some inventive angles that place you right in the face (literally) of some of the action but also flirt with letting you see what is going on in the background as Noé’s all-seeing-eye floats around the room, moving more frenetically with the escalating tension.
Drawing comparisons with Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession and Argento’s Suspiria, Climax is not a horror movie but one with horrific intentions, something to experience rather than ‘enjoy’, although it is much less awkward than Irreversible when it comes to admitting any admiration for it as Gaspar Noé avoids going head-on with the shock tactics and subtly moves in from the side, flooring you by sweeping your feet away rather than going for a gut punch. It is by no means a comfortable watch but that is what we have come to expect from this provocative director and Climax, despite being as loud, brash and in-your-face as almost everything else he’s done, could well be his most accomplished work to date.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★