Film Review: The Young Dancers Bubble Up And Explode On LSD In "Climax"
Gaspar Noe, the director behind the infamous Irreversible — a film notable for a sickening 10-minute-long rape and a scene of a person’s face being smashed into 4 dollar mincemeat with a fire extinguisher — is not a man known for thoughtful restraint. One of his other films, Love, ends with a man ejaculating into the camera lens. Interpret that how you will. But it’s little surprise that his latest feature, Climax (the first to be classified as an outright horror film,) is brimming with radioactive lust and cruelty. And that’s before the inciting incident — the ingestion of seriously potent LSD.
Despite the provocations of deep disgust and sadness, I was enthralled throughout Climax. This is because Noe is in total control of his craft. This is a distinctly unlikeable and certainly unlovable film, but it’s concisely made. And more than this, it’s exhilarating.
Set in 1996 over the course of one ill-fated winter evening, Climax centres on a French hip/hop dance troupe partying in a cabin. A great amount of time is devoted to showing off their remarkable athleticism, their hipstery, sexually aggressive banter and their propensity for meanly gossiping about each other. It’s not so much about building a plot as it is about lulling you into a kind of trance and familiarising you with the characters’ thoughts and behaviours. If that sounds a bit dull, rest assured that the rapid editing and loose, free-flowing camera work keeps the boredom firmly at bay, and the group is diverse enough that it never gets monotonous.
Things take a turn for the horrifying when the dance troupe realise that the punch has been spiked with LSD. Their fears and paranoias bubble up to the surface, resulting in terrible decisions that pile up in a horrifying and irrevocable fashion. Simply put, they completely lose their fucking minds, succumbing to a frenzied hysteria wherein it feels as if violence, self-mutilation, or deeply regrettable sex could happen at any moment. Naturally, it does. And then things get much worse.
Noe’s superb direction makes all the difference. While this kind of story could easily wind up as a suffocating, sensory overload, Noe’s camera follows each subject in Climax with a steady and curious, if emotionally distanced, eye. He’s not afraid to ditch one agonised torture subject to follow another more interesting (read: dirtier and more gruesome) one. The sheer artistry and skill of that is something to behold. It’s comparable to a poet composing a sonnet with broken glass and rusty nails. But the intent behind this artistry is so god damn devious and borderline juvenile. Because the mere act of watching this fictional movie nearly emotionally aligns you with the real-life perverts and voyeurs. And so, by the credits, you’re left with this unshakable feeling of shame. And I’m sure Noe would get a huge kick out of that.
4.5 Stars out of 5