Gaspar Noé’s hallucinogenic Climax is as hard core as its bad trip.
Acid Droppedby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
If you’re not shocked by a Gaspar Noé film (such as Irrevérsible or Love), he’ll consider it a failure. So by those standards, Climax is a hard-core success.
In Climax a group of young, multiracial dancers finish the final rehearsal for their forthcoming tour of France and the US in the hall of the same remote, dirty and disused school building that they’ve all been living in. To celebrate, there’s a party with a punch bowl of delicious sangria. They drink it eagerly, not knowing it has been spiked with LSD.
But the film starts back to front with the full credits and an unknown woman collapsing in a snowy landscape, bloodying it. Then it rewinds. We see the hopeful young dancers’ video auditions: they’re all fiercely ambitious but with different kinds of emotional baggage, setting up what’s about to happen. There’s a superb 15-minute segment, shot in what could be a single take, as they perform their complete routine to a pounding electro-music soundtrack, dressed in outrageous costumes, dancing acrobatic street-style with unbelievably fluid limbs and flamboyant choreography that’s so edgy it’s brutalistic. It’s a spell-binding start.
As the camera eavesdrops on conversations at the party, individuals emerge from the haze of male and female hormones. There’s Selva (Sofia Boutella), one of the choreographers, a central character, a fat DJ (Kiddy Smile), various misogynistic, boastful young guys, gays (both confident and wishful), lesbians, a brother and sister whose relationship seems too close, a pregnant woman and the other choreographer (Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull), who has misguidedly brought her young son Tito along.
Then, in the second half of the film, the acid kicks in and what started as Fame turns into a Day-Glo, adult Lord of the Flies. It’s both an orgy and a horror story, a group bad trip of hallucinogen-fuelled sex and violence as everyone descends nonstop into madness or, like Selva, writhes through their own private hell.
As the pounding dance tracks thud relentlessly, and screaming (gut-wrenchingly, we know where from) continues horribly in the background, the school’s confusing labyrinthine corridors down which tripped-out dancers stagger are shot with red or green filters, and as the worst violence takes over the constantly racing Steadicam disorientingly turns full circle so that people look as if they are suspended from the ceiling.
Like LSD, Climax is an extreme experience. The film is mesmerising and, in places, gruelling to watch. And when Gaspar Noé has drained you, it ends.
Climax premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and is released on 21 September 2018 in the UK.