CLIMAX (95 R)
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.
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writer: Gaspar Noé
Stars: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub
Subtitled in English
Gaspar Noé has served up another hardcore agape-horror – visually extraordinary, structurally and formally audacious. And maybe it is, finally – and perhaps inevitably – anticlimactic, collapsing into a long bad trip of Noé mannerisms: nightmare corridors, red-light-district ambience, nausea-inducing soundtrack thudding, swivelling upside-down POV shots. But who is going to complain, when this director’s climaxes have got so much more decibels than other people’s earnest declamations?
Noé is giving us a cinema of sensual outrageousness and excess that makes other films look middleaged and tame. I did find myself thinking, in the midst of one of this film’s final longueurs, that Withnail should saunter on and say: “Balls, I’ll swallow it and run a mile.” But there’s no doubt it. When Gaspar medicines you, you stay medicined.
The action of this film is a kind of episodic series of spectacular tableaux, a horrendous decline into madness and infernal despair. It is supposedly based on the true story of a 90s dance troupe who held a party after a rehearsal, drank booze spiked with LSD, and succumbed to an increasingly sinister collective freak-out. But I can’t believe that it was anywhere near as full-on as this satanic DJ-set that Noé conjures, moving from eros to thanatos in pretty short order.
As in his 2002 shocker Irrevérsible, things are disorientingly ordered and so are we are procedurally woozy from the outset. The final credits scroll by first, then we see a series of audition-interview videos: a series of fresh-faced young French dancers, trying out for a prestigious US tour, talking about their love of dance, life, sex – and incidentally feeling no little patriotism at showing the Americans how it’s done. Down the side of the TV screen, we can see VHS cassettes of various movies, giving a taster of the influences to come. Then we get the first full rehearsal in a long continuous bravura take, then the uproarious party, then the weird vibe, the suspicion that the delicious sangria is delicious for a bad reason, then the gruesome sulphuric descent.
It is as if Noé has somehow mulched up the quintessence of dance, coke and porn together and squooshed it into his camera. If that sounds horrible, then yes it is, but also, often, demonically inspired. You feel like the silhouette guy getting zapped by the lightning bolt in the “Danger High Voltage” sign. The first dance scene on its own had something scarily extreme about its flailingly superhuman moves. Then Noé breaks out an extraordinary overhead shot and finishes this section with a kind of credit sequence name-checking all the musical acts, all the dancers, and naturally the director himself, and all in vivid day-glo lettering.
Talk about fierce. This really is fierce. Perhaps Noé pondered the possibility of reshuffling the narrative again, and ending on that gobsmacking, showstopping display.
As it is, we get the scary-film unravelling and a small child called Tito terrifyingly drinks the evil brew – someone later calls out in the gloom: “Shit! Tito’s fried!” I admit I was square and timid enough to wonder if Noé was going to tell us what happens to poor little Tito in the end. Maybe the end, as so often in the past with this film-maker, can’t measure up to what has happened before. But Noé makes you experience his cinema intravenously.
– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian