Written & Directed by Gaspar Noe
The bliss of Heaven is matched by the torment of Hell. This is the central theme of Gaspar Noe’s latest film, a psychedelic odyssey into madness, performed by mostly non-acting professional dancers. They have holed up in an abandoned boarding school during a snowstorm where they are celebrating their planned trip to the United States for a competition. The night’s revelry begins with spontaneous dancing and the consumption of some delicious sangria. After everyone has drunk of the celebratory punch, they realize it’s been spiked with LSD, and the nightmare begins. As is Noe’s style, the film is structured in surprising ways with often overly showy cinematography.
There is virtually no story in Climax beyond the main set-up, once the drugs kick in everything becomes chaotic, and we’re just sort of along for the ride, an attraction that might be popular at a theme park in Hell. You cannot argue that Noe isn’t ambitious, looking for technical challenges, picking interesting angles to film the dance numbers, and even pulling off a 42-minute one take Steadicam shot. Noe is also very blatant in his notion that Climax is a type of horror film. During an opening scene composed of interviews with the dance troupe members, we watch on an old tube television surrounded by books and VHS tapes. Standout titles include Night of the Living Dead and Suspiria. Combining dance and horror, along with some of the giallo-like lighting later in the movie are obvious nods to the classic Suspiria.
Climax pre-production was four weeks, and the film was shot in fifteen days, with the cast being allowed to improvise much of the dialogue and side plots. This is the greatest weakness of the movie because, as mentioned earlier, most of the cast are not professional actors. The extended dance sequence in the first act is a piece of cinematic brilliance, and it shows that these people are incredibly talented at improvising dances. The various backstories and betrayals play as weak and at their worst comical. I was never quite sure what Noe’s tonal intent was; if we were laughing with him or not.
Noe infuses the movie with his signature middle finger at conventions, showing the final scene of the film in the opening complete with credits rolling. About forty minutes into the picture, we get the acting and music credits, all blasted across the screen in stylized text. The movie ends on an extended fade to white, showing us an image that implies who the culprit behind the punch’s spiking may have been. Does any of this amount to any overarching ideas or themes Noe is attempting to convey? Nope. I just got the sense that this was an experiment, a playful filmmaking experience fueled by an interesting in hip hop dance styles.
Climax is a movie destined to find a cult following somewhere. It’s such a niche and stylistic experience that I know a small audience of passionate admirers will treasure it. As a movie with enough merit to warrant me revisiting it one day I don’t think it’s there. However, those opening dance scenes are some of the best individual film sequences I’ve seen in a long time so it won’t be a picture that’s forgotten easily.