There’s simply no denying that Gaspar Noé is one of modern cinema’s most revered filmmakers… or perhaps, most reviled, depending on your opinion. Alongside peers like Lars Von Trier and Darren Aronofsky, Noé has set the bar for breathtaking artistry and a confrontational film style that completely spits in the face of convention. He’s not afraid to cross lines and boundaries, for which he has been both lauded and criticized. Regardless, his newest feature film, Climax, is undeniably one of the year’s most anticipated movies. So, does this film hit all the right spots?
The plot here is ridiculously simple. A choreographer assembles together a dance troupe of young, ambitious dancers looking to make a name for themselves. They’re gathered to a remote, empty dance school for rehearsals on a blustery snowy night. But their all-night celebration quickly turns into a hallucinogenic nightmare when they discover their sangria has been laced with LSD. From here, all hell breaks loose in an unrestrained, neon-drenched, dizzying mindfuck of an experience.
Although the film bounces around seamlessly to each of the characters, giving us a glimpse into their personalities and moral compasses – or lack there of – throughout their descent into drug-induced madness, much of the story unfolds through the viewpoint of Selva, the lead dancer and choreographer for the troupe, played magnificently by Sofia Boutella (The Mummy 2017). She seems to be the one most aware that something is going horribly wrong once the mass hysteria begins, but she’s also within the drug’s psychotic grasp herself, battling her own perilous bad trip. Without giving away too much, perhaps the most breathtakingly gorgeous scene in a film full of them is when Selva, succumbing to the drug’s grip, breaks into a staggering, unhinged scene of choreographed insanity, bearing striking resemblance to Isabelle Adjani’s unforgettable subway freakout in Andrzej Zulawski’s 1981 masterpiece, Possession. It’s at once gripping, beautiful, and terrifying all wrapped into one, a perfect microcosm encapsulating this entire film.
This is a Gaspar Noé film, so you can pretty much toss convention right out the window. What would normally be the end credits for most movies hits only a few minutes in after a brief opening sequence. There’s a dizzying array of camera angles, including a lot of majestic overhead shooting. Something of a trademark in his films, he breaks the fourth wall from time to time to inject typographical insights or observances, fully intending to disrupt and disturb the audience, or perhaps to give them a brief respite from the sensory overload. But the cinematography is simply spectacular, the splashy, vibrant colors are electrifying, the thumping music is pulsating perfection, and the dance sequences are absolutely dazzling and mind-blowing to behold.
As in most of Noé’s films, there’s no obvious villain. The true horror here is the evil depravity of the human heart. Noé also does a superb job of creating a strong sense of isolation and a pervasive, claustrophobic feeling of dread that only enhances the state of paranoia and panic. It’s not just the dancers that get sucked into this psychotic meltdown. He drags the viewers right down the rabbit hole with them, and he does so masterfully.
In my humble opinion, the hype behind Climax is real. This is one of the year’s most anticipated films, and it’s completely justified. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this might be Noé’s best so far. It’s as unnerving and uncomfortable as you might expect, but not nearly as challenging or confrontational as, say, Irréversible. There might not be a lot of depth to the plot, but in this case, there doesn’t need to be. This movie is a spectacle, a mesmerizing, psychedelic eyegasm, complete visual and auditory ecstasy. It’s magnificently artistic without getting heavy-handed or pretentious. It’s not for everybody, and as polarizing as Noé can be, I suspect most people have already formed their opinions on whether they really want to see this or not. But I would urge everyone to toss their predispositions aside and give Climax a shot. It is essential viewing, a modern masterpiece of hallucinogenic horror of the highest caliber.
Climax debuted in theaters on March 1, 2019.