Director: Gaspar Noé
Release Date: March 1, 2019
The visually stunning Climax feels like a living nightmare that neither you nor the characters in the movie can wake up from. Gaspar Noe does his best at fucking with the audience’s equilibrium while having you thinking: Who spiked the sangria?
French director Gaspar Noe takes us on a trip to hell with his latest horror-thriller-and-musical genre mash-up appropriately called Climax. The film follows a dance crew’s downward spiral to insanity after the community bowl of sangria at an after-party is spiked with LSD. Oh, and it’s loosely based on a true story.
The film opens with a quick scene of a young woman running through the cold snow, screaming and providing the audience a sneak peak of what’s to come. Right after, we see the interviews of the dancers on an old TV set surrounded by classic films, most recognizable being Suspiria. The interview provides some context on what to expect from each character going forward and some relationship dynamics between them.
The cast is almost entirely made up of dancers except for Sofia Boutella (The Mummy), which is crucial in making the dance scenes work. Having never seen any of these people in anything else we see them only as the characters they’re playing on screen, as if we’re direct witnesses to this “true story.” Other than the choreography, everything we see was improvised, according to the director.
Although a runtime of 96 minutes might sound like a quick watch, Climax doesn’t feel that way. After the opening dance sequence, which is arguably the most impressive scene of the movie, it almost immediately drags with the dialogue between the dancers. Their arguments over relationship issues or talks about which girl they want to fuck next become irrelevant once the LSD trip kicks in. The acid trip itself also overstays its welcome. As the camera work, lighting, and endless loop of dance beats puts you in a daze thinking “when is it going to end” it plays with your sanity, which is completely intentional but also exhausting. Noe makes the audience feel as if your drink has been spiked as well but you come down off your LSD high much quicker than the rest of the crew, making you slightly annoyed as the only sober guy at the party.
The camera follows each character through the party at least once but without cutting scenes. It passes off when members interact with one another seamlessly, or never cutting. As the story is being told through almost one fluid shot, it adds to the perceived effect that you are witnessing the events in real time, not actually watching a movie.
We see the characters descend to madness as their humanity starts to leave them. Their sense of empathy goes completely out the window as they use a Salem Witch Trials style of justice in punishing who they believe spiked the sangria. They’re reduced down to their primal urges as they begin competing for power and are down for literally fucking each other on the ground. All-out chaos is the only way to describe the climax of the story. Some dancers are stuck in a complete zombie-like daze, dancing to the transient music in the middle of the anarchy as others are cutting themselves or playing with fire — all completely normal things to do at an LSD dance party.
The narrative of who spiked the sangria takes a back seat, after the initial irrational decision making to punish the first suspect. Noe’s intention is to make the audience as uncomfortable as possible instead of bringing you in on a who-done-it mystery. The lighting, sounds of looped music and distant screaming, and camera work that will fuck with your head will make you feel crazy and have you thinking to yourself “when is it going to end.”
With long stretches of watching what feels like the director jerking himself off with goofy camera angles this one isn’t for everyone. Climax is exactly what the filmmakers intended it to be which is a nightmare acid trip.