Climax is not a film for the faint of heart. Those familiar with director Gaspar Noé’s (Irreversible, Enter the Void) work will know he doesn’t do comfortable entertainment. Accustomed to shocking his audience, the director’s latest vision was met with strong reviews and warm applause when it premiered at Cannes.
How times have changed, he must have thought, since Irreversible was walked out on and dubbed “Unwatchable”. Although cinema-goers shouldn’t expect a smooth ride watching his newest picture, Climax is a helter-skelter ride through an LSD-fuelled nightmare.
Claiming to be based on a 1990s news story, Climax follows a young, diverse group of French (and one German) dancers assembled to form a competitive troupe. On the night of their final rehearsal before a tour they perform a spectacular routine, with choreography and skill befitting a cast made up primarily of professional dancers. Cinematographer Benoît Debie, best known for Spring Breakers, and Noé, working the camera himself, combine to make this scene a joyous experience, and the audience are dragged into the performance by the shaky, POV camerawork.
This fleeting celebratory spirit lasts all of half an hour. The rest of the film is an agonisingly vivid exhibit of a really, really bad trip. Things swiftly and dramatically go downhill when the troupe realise someone has slipped LSD into the sangria they had all been sipping from triumphantly.
There are all manner of unnerving scenes to squirm through during the movie’s descent into madness, but perhaps most horrifying of all is the soundtrack. Up-tempo dance with a thumping bass provides an intense platform for the dance routine, but the tempo steadily slows to a demonic, monotonous blast. The bass thumps harder and schizophrenically shifts from slow to fast. It’s like a heart-attack on speakers. Meanwhile, endless nightmarish screams battle with the music for atmospheric supremacy.
At its worst this movie feels like an empty vice programme (Vice Films is actually a co-producer and financier) and is vulnerable to pseudo profound outbursts. At one point the screen is plastered in huge font with the words “Death is an extraordinary experience” (in French, as the picture’s dialogue is), which is just an uninteresting fact.
However, pretensions to profundity should be forgiven, because Climax offers viewers a hauntingly lucid study of LSD-driven madness. In short, this film is a psychedelic experience in itself.
Climax is released in select cinemas on 21st September 2018.
Watch the trailer for Climax here: