Suspiria may have wanted your soul, but Gaspar Noé wants more. Not only does he want your soul, he wants your body and your mind. He wants everything you have to offer, and then more. Noé is back with his latest film; the dance murder mystery/horror Climax, a film in which a dance troupe are lured to an empty school, only to be drugged by LSD sangria.
Like so many of his films, it hard to describe Climax in words. This isn’t necessarily a film but an experience, a trip into the depravity of human nature. Noé seems obsessed with examining the darkness that lies inside us, waiting to be let out. Taboo and boundary pushing as always, a variety of subjects are touched upon here including incest, abortion, and homosexuality. Those who are easily disturbed, should avoid this film, although tame in terms of Noé’s other films, there is still enough here to give you nightmares.
Like Irréversible, Climax starts at the end with a blood soaked young woman, writhing around in the snow. The camera revolves up along the vertical-axis through 360 degrees, spinning around in a dizzy fashion. Those who are familiar with Noé‘s work, are aware that this is his way to make the viewer unsettled. If you are already feeling distressed, then it only gets worse.
We see a title card that reads: “A CEUX QUI NOUS ONT FAITS ET QUI NE SONT PLUS” (“to those who made us and who are no longer” in French), followed by “VOUS AVEZ VU UN FILM TIRE DE FAITS REELS SURVENUS EN FRANCE AU COEUR DE L’HIVER 1996” (“you see a movie taken from real events in France in the heart of winter 1996”. In typical, Noé fashion we are expected to endure the events leading up to this outcome, making for a gruelling viewing experience.
The film begins with video tape interviews with each of member of the troupe, which helps to give a nice introduction to each character. Our main players are leading dancer Selva (Sofia Boutella), David (Romain Guillermi), Lou (Souheila Yacoub), Gazelle (Giselle Palmer), and Taylor (Taylor Kastle). After displaying an elaborate dance routine for their manager Emmanuelle (Claude Gajan Maull), who has her young son Tito with her, the group celebrate by partying and drinking sangria that Emmanuelle has made.
The dance routine is breath-taking to watch, there really isn’t any other way to describe it. Shot in a continuous 20 minute take, the dancers move at extraordinary speeds, with no single position held for more than a second or two. With the camera peering down on the characters as they dance in a flurry of movement, we feel like we are experiencing some kind out-of-body experience. The blood-red coloured dance floor, stands out like a warning of what is to come.
After the dance sequence, the film settles down, and here is where the film begins to drag slightly (although it’s runtime is only 96 minutes), as the characters drink and discuss a range of topics. Then suddenly, things get very weird. And it all descends into utter madness. The drug sequence lasts 42 minutes, and is presented as one continuous shot, the camera following the characters like this is some perverse documentary.
The lack of any editing, helps to reinforce the sense of paranoia from which the entire group are now suffering. The viewer feels like they are being pulled into this world too, whether we want to or not. Humanity, compassion and reason begins to collapse; with some of the troupe becoming concerned only with sex, and others with violence.
There is a lot going on here, and there are moments of pure brilliance. However, it feels like Gaspar Noé is almost parodying his own work. The film feels too self aware, and grandiose. In fact, one could almost say that this is borderline pretentious. Unlike the characters seen in Irréversible, there isn’t anyone here that we really connect to here. Boutella’s Selva is the closest we get to a main character, and she gives a superb performance.
However, her character seems to lack any real depth. Of course, Noé isn’t really interested in any real character development. This is simply an exploration into depravity and perversion. But, to understand the innate corruption of human nature, there must be at least one likeable character who we root for and connect with.
Climax is a bad trip; one that feels like a nightmare that you are aware you having but unable to escape from. But like a nightmare, once it’s over and you’re back to reality, you almost forget what all the fuss was about. As the narrative continues, and we see all sorts of macabre scenes, it suddenly becomes a little boring. It could be possible, that one has become desensitized to Noé’s work. There is so much potential here, and it’s so frustrating that Noé didn’t go even further. Apparently, Climax was shot with only a 5 page long script and it shows.