French provocateur, Gaspar Noé, does it again. He delivers yet another challenging, uncompromising piece of transgressive filmmaking. From I Stand Alone to Irreversible, Enter the Void to LOVE, he has proven time and time again that—love it or hate it—his films are designed to evoke a guttural (sometimes nauseating) reaction, to manipulate and exploit audiences on a psychological level. Climax is no exception. For some, that’s a blessing–for others, it’s a curse.
The film follows a French dance troupe as they prepare for a U.S. performance. However, things quickly become nightmarish and hallucinatory when they realize someone spiked their sangria with LSD. What follows is a depiction of hell that is breathtaking, deeply disturbing, and highly problematic.
The film opens with a CRT television playing lengthy interview footage with the cast of characters. Stacked beside the TV are VHS tapes of Noé’s inspirations: Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, to name a few. The selection of films is telling; Noé is clearly more concerned with evoking a visceral reaction rather than telling a meaningful or coherent story.
Then, the film kicks into high gear with an absolutely mesmerizing dance sequence. The choreography and execution are jaw-dropping. The camera remains relatively static throughout, allowing the dancers to remain the focal point. Unfortunately, the film fails to ever again reach the height of seeing Sofia Boutella bend and contort her body in spectacular ways. Climax, by design, quickly segues into candid and sometimes questionable conversations revolving around sexual assault and finally devolves into utter madness. At one point, the camera literally flips upside down for most of the final act. The experience is equally enthralling and infuriating.
Verdict 2 out 5
During the screening, some attendees left the theater, which is likely Noé’s desired reaction. As a lover of extreme cinema, I was underwhelmed. Although the film rightly refuses to moralize or explain itself, Climax is also deeply problematic. Noé unapologetically films violence against women (one particularly brutal scene shows a pregnant woman being repeatedly kicked in the stomach) and, in the final act, depicts the black supporting cast as animalistic. All of this nastiness begs the question— what’s the point? For Noé, the question answers itself.