Synopsis: French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD.
Stars: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull, Giselle Palmer
Director: Gaspar Noé
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: You’re on a plane and before take-off the flight attendant makes the announcement to make sure you know where the exits are. You’re in a Broadway theater and the pre-show spiel mentions to locate the nearest exit in the event of an emergency. These are public services meant to help people that need to get to safety as quickly as possible should there be any danger. My public service message to you, dear reader, should you find yourself in a screening of Climax is to make sure you know where the nearest exit is so you can high tail it out of there if things get too out of hand for you. I sort of had to suffer through it (though not everyone in my screening stuck it out) and I feel like I’m owed some sort of survivors T-Shirt for my efforts.
It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. French director Gaspar Noé has been pushing the boundaries of cinema and the tolerance of viewers for years. His passion to shock is like a child run amok and while Climax is definitely not the most extreme example of his assaults it ranks as one of the most disappointing because it starts out so strong. Had the movie stayed on its path and refrained from the director’s tired tropes meant to rattle our cages it could have signaled a maturity only hinted at in the first (electrifying) half hour.
Opening as most Noé films do with the closing credits before seguing into interviews with a troupe of dancers, Climax manages to create some interest right from the start as we’re introduced to an eclectic group who may not speak eloquently but who charm nonetheless with their off the cuff responses. The non-professional actors improvised almost all of the film and this green-ness works well in these opening scenes as the inexperienced folk gradually become more comfortable with the camera and being questioned by the off camera voice of Sofia Boutella (The Mummy), the only professional actor in the bunch who is also a trained dancer.
The first of two dance sequences is fairly astounding and showcases every person with their individual strengths. Limber, lithe, and fearless, the troupe performs a dance directly to the camera of a piece they’ve been working on for the last three days. It’s the bold and breathless culmination of an intense period of work that has brought them close together in a short time span. They still don’t know each other that well personally but being in that close proximity has forced an intimacy on them many people outside of the situation wouldn’t understand. I’d almost say this dance scene and the one that follows is worth the price of admission…but then again…
Soon after the dancing ends the drinking begins and it’s discovered someone has laced the sangria everyone is gulping down with LSD. That’s when the trouble starts as the dancers turn on themselves and each other in increasingly bizarre ways. Following the action in five or six long shots that take up the expanse of the 95 minute run time, Noé takes no prisoners as no taboo is off limits. Rape, incest, abuse, drug use, self-immolation, hate crimes…all are explored in gross, gory detail. I should add there’s a child thrown in the mix…and that’s never a good thing in a Noé film. Though I try to remain a spoiler-free source, I have to say that once a pregnant woman gets viciously kicked in the stomach and turns to self harm, I was sort of over what Noé was trying to sell me.
The amateur status of the actors in Noé’s nightmare begins to become a drawback the more the emotional stakes are raised and everything soon becomes a delirium of twisted limbs and screaming frenzy as the LSD-fueled rave rages on into the night. It makes the finale of 2018’s Suspiria look like an MGM musical by comparison. The insouciance displayed toward the audience is remarkable, I don’t think Noé would be disturbed at all to be told that a screening started off sold-out and by the time the film ended only two people were left in the theater. I’m not saying a movie shouldn’t challenging or willing expose a dark side but there’s a taste level threshold that’s crossed here you just can’t bounce back from.
I would strongly suggest skipping Climax completely, even though the first half is quite intriguing. Better yet, wait for it to show up on Amazon Prime in a few months and turn the film off once the dancing stops and the party begins.