One can describe French provocateur Gaspar Noe’s films as something of a “bad trip”. With his new film, Climax, this couldn’t be more literal. The set-up is simple: a group of 20 dancers seeks to relax after an intensive three-day rehearsal at an abandoned boarding school. However, they instead encounter horrors beyond their wildest dreams when one of them spikes the sangria with LSD. As they plunge further into madness, a terrifying, entrancing work of art springs to life.
Climax is the type of film that relishes in pushing its audience’s buttons. For example, the ending of the film- credits and all- plays out at the very beginning. The image of a lone, bloodied dancer crawling through the snow as she cries out for help sets an ominous mood as we launch into the opening proper.
Set to a remix of “Supernature” by Cerrone, Noe, and cinematographer Benoit Debie stage an elaborate dance routine that appears to all be shot in one take. The free-flowing camera of the sequence captures the distinct energies of every character; the posh, the flamboyant, the cocky, the bashful. Everyone gets an opportunity to shine through this stunningly choreographed sequence that introduces the troupe and offers a hint of what’s to come.
Soon after the bravura opening, (most of) the characters ingest the spiked sangria. From there, it’s a slow-burn wherein the characters slowly start to lose their inhibitions. With the exception of Sofia Boutella as lead dancer Selva, the majority of the cast are dancers making their acting debut. This is nothing short of stupefying, as each of them conveys a decaying mental state in their own explosive ways.
“Explosive” is an understatement. From the second characters ingest the sangria, Noe revs up the disturbing factor to a considerable degree. Mutilation, murder, incest- there’s nowhere he’s unwilling to go. It’s highly likely audiences will walk out extremely offended by the content of the film. But as a view of what happens when people’s beastly inner desires come to the forefront, it’s harrowing.
The style of the film leaves just as much of an impression. For starters, the soundtrack has plenty of 90s techno bangers from the likes of Daft Punk. Noe and Dubie stick mostly to long takes that capture the horror in an objective fashion. Within the same shot, the film can go from two dancers obliviously jamming out to a man breaking his bones to a woman freaking out in the corner and right back to more dancers obliviously dancing. In fact, nearly the entire third act is shot upside-down, drenched in harsh red lighting.
This ambition helps to turn Climax into a full-on experience: a roller-coaster ride that you can’t get off of. After sitting with Gaspar Noe’s wild dance party, you might just want to ride again. – James Preston Poole
Climax is now in theaters.
The film stars Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, Thea Carla Schott, Sharleen Temple, and Lea Vlamos.