Directed by Gaspar Noé.
Starring Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, and Thea Carla Schott.
French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD.
At the risk of sounding like a personified fedora with opinions on film, Gaspar Noé’s Climax is not a movie you “watch” – it’s an overwhelming experience. Exotic disco damnation summoned from the bowels of Hell, supercharged by hallucinatory sexual symbolism. Credits flash with off-tempo timing, Noé’s collection of VHS influences frame interview segments, jubilation turns to artistic divinity than to ritualistic primality – you’ve never witnessed freestyle immorality this transfixing before. Noé, a mad scientist reinventing his own scattershot and forever-divisive formula, plunges into a psychedelic pool of pure primordial vitality too tantrically traumatizing to deny.
All crushed up, cut with Satan’s special cocktail, and railed to a Jock Jams soundtrack.
General story mapping collects twenty(ish) French “urban dancers,” isolates them for a three-day rehearsal before international travel, and we watch their last night spin wildly out of control. Selva (Sofia Boutella) acts as our ringleader of sorts, but everyone’s unique breakdown is honored. Practice leads to stress which permits a finale celebration where someone spikes homebrewed sangria with LSD. As the drugs take hold, inhibitions predictably crumble. What happens next? You name it.
“So wait, where do the ‘interview segments’ you mention come in?”
Noé’s first deception is starting Climax by introducing his troupe of dysfunctional subjects via videotaped tryout tell-alls. Giggly brothers who express nerves over working with homosexual counterparts, super close (too close) siblings, heartthrobs, professional players seeking excitement – groundwork intentions. The catch? We watch these confessionals on a fuzzy television placed between cabinet shelves. Stacked movies such as Salò, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom, Zombie, and Suspira surround the talking heads as a means of foreshadowing (on the heels of a brief snowfall tirade tease).
Once turntables start spinning inside the religious school’s empty gymnasium, each performer’s untempered character begins flooding the screen.
It’s a hot second before possession cinematography turns pleasure-seeking partiers into denizens of sin, as first we catch the dance company’s scripted routine. Creativity bursts expressionist endurance fueled by each soul’s true self, which comes out doubly-hard as dancers pair off for some improvised chit-chat before the LSD starts trippin’. Crude, private, blunt conversations that mainly equate to sexual gratification. Trigger warning, because locker room talk flies without lubrication – necessary rhythms of provocation that introduce unrestrained levels of abandon to come.
Then the sangria hits and my god, Climax is one helluva drug. Exactly where signature Noé will *predictably* lose some audiences – narcotic-induced narrative obliteration – is where his writhing orgy of electropop breakdown warfare rages hardest.
Screams and laughs loop a simultaneous screech over flipped deck tracks (Daft Punk, Aphex Twin, etc.), a steady beat keeping time as frozen corpses, singed scalps, and vile acts of impulse stack higher than speaker towers. Boutella glides through dormitory rooms and main dance floor obstacles as she cannot grip her depreciation of reality – jolted by her reflection in a mirror, scream-slamming her body in spastic fits of uncontrolled interpretive chaos. Contortionists snarl and snap limbs under nightmarish red hues after a third act electrical burst drenches every action in even thicker saturated madness. Cinematographer Benoît Debie so seamless a voyeur as the camera flips from Boutella’s frantic inmate to aggro Cyborg (Alexandre Moreau) alpha dog to Psyche’s (Thea Carla Schott) sensual out-of-body tics.
Death, as Noé’s inserted title card eventually claims, is an extraordinary experience.
Better yet, Noé achieves a Burn After Reading sting by dropping the card “Life is a collective impossibility” in a way that grounds his characters; their outbursts. Can one even comprehend time spent on this Earth? We’re so lucky to have fleeting moments of bliss let alone entire lifetimes. We are such dangerous creatures, which Noé’s cast acts on once social barriers strip under the shimmering glint of a gigantic reflective French backdrop flag. Take your own interpretation of these events – which I’m sure mirror deeper relevance to native viewers – but as “human condition” thrillers rock, this one cranks the bleary-eyed dystopian volume. Intrinsically personal and deeply revealing.
Climax is an unstoppably energetic, masterful composition of deranged individualism as if Rob Zombie was given his own nightclub venue in international waters. Gaspar Noé grants characters humanity then cuts them loose like rabid dogs in heat, fully delivering on the twisted payoffs to come. French Extremism is alive and well, and no one pushes boundaries quite like Noé. Think America’s Best Dance Crew meets The Purge, except with more devilish imagery and less stress on outright murder. Who needs an adrenaline needle when you’ve got Noé’s best film in ages?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).