CLIMAX, the latest film from director Gaspar Noé (Irreversible), is what I imagine an LSD fever dream, or a drug-induced waking nightmare, would be. The film stars Sofia Boutella (Hotel Artemis), Romain Guillermic (Elektro Mathematrix), and Souheila Yacoub (Plus belle la vie).
In CLIMAX, a troupe of young dancers gather in a remote and empty school building to rehearse. Following an unforgettable opening performance lit by virtuoso cinematographer Benoît Debie (Spring Breakers, Enter the Void) and shot by Noé himself, the troupe begins an all-night celebration that turns nightmarish as the dancers discover they’ve been pounding cups of sangria laced with potent LSD. Tracking their journey from jubilation to chaos and full-fledged anarchy, Noé observes crushes, rivalries, and violence amid a collective psychedelic meltdown. (A24)
This movie. This fucking movie. There are films out there that can move you in ways that other forms of entertainment can’t, and CLIMAX is one of those films. From the moment the film started I was sucked in, mesmerized by the audition tapes and the stack of books surrounding the TV screen which seemed to be a clear homage to that which inspired Noé. This was followed by a masterful ten-minute scene shot in one take with the dancers performing a number that is both electric and sensual in its presentation. It’s after this that we, the viewer, begin to see the performers question their surroundings, as well as the sangria they are all drinking, as each person begins to descend into a delirious, hallucinatory state of being.
What I loved so much about CLIMAX was how so much was said without the use of words. This is not a film that is drenched in heavy dialogue, instead, Noé relies on the dancer’s performances to tell the story and to bring the viewer down the rabbit hole of insanity. This film is a piece of art, one that should be seen and felt as the many emotions course through the body, but I’ll admit that it is not a film for everyone. The horror takes place at the height of the LSD trip, as characters begin turning on one another and the consequences of their actions come to fruition. Blood is shed and lives are ended as the camera twists and turns, zooming in and out, to give the viewer a sense of chaos. If you are prone to motion sickness, there are definitely going to be a few scenes that trigger that so be prepared and aware going in. All this is to say that Noé does a superb job of creating an enclosed feeling of dread, pandemonium, and heightened awareness of the dangers unfolding.
From a designer standpoint, I was really drawn to the overall production design brought forth by Jean Rabasse. Whether it was the mountain of books that surround the TV in the first scene, the neon colors highlighted in the different rooms of the school, the title blocks and presentation of the cast, or the stark white imagery of a wintry night/day, there’s quite a bit of beauty to behold. Along with Noé’s directing and the visual artistry through the performances and design, CLIMAX ends up becoming an intoxicating experience through the lens of the viewer. As much praise as I want to give Noé, the film wouldn’t be what it is without the incredible dancers. Given a script with very little information, Noé allowed the performances to exude their emotions through their own interpretation which allows for many unique styles of dance. Growing up, my parents had me take dance for 13 years, and though I don’t practice it anymore, I have a massive amount of admiration towards dancers and the way in which they bring forth their feelings through music and movement.
CLIMAX is a tour-de-force and a visual spectacle that all who love cinema should experience. The performances are stunning, the camera-work impressive, and the artistic stylized design is breathtaking. The horror may not be what fans of the genre are used to, but that’s what makes films like this unique. If you’re looking for a mind fuck that will pull you down into the unsavory recesses of humanity, then make sure to check out CLIMAX when it’s released on Blu-ray/DVD on May 28th, which features a Making of Climax Featurette!