Climax review Sofia BoutellaYear: 2018
Director(s): Gaspar Noe
Writer(s): Gaspar Noe
Region of Origin: France
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 95 mins

Synopsis: A spiked bowl of sangria creates hell for dance troupe.

Gaspar Noe is not a director who settles for half measures. Each of his films have been tied to a singular concept, mining the space where technical verisimilitude and emotional truth converge. His latest film, Climax, is no different. Armed with a host of real dancers, Noe has created a cinematic dance of death that explores human nature through the relationship with our fragile bodies. Shot in dazzling extended takes and replete with breathtaking dance sequences, this is a film that makes us want to both tap our feet and cover our mouths in abject horror. As a starting point, Noe eloquently uses dance to capture the way art imitates life, and vice versa. In truth, words only diminish how this film forces us to feel. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that breathes and exhales and pulls us in with its electrifying rhythm before submerging us into the deepest pit of hell.

After an intensive rehearsal, a touring dance team decides to unwind for the night. They keep the music going, but mix in a few drinks and split the dance floor into groups of friendly cliques. But this isn’t just any party. Soon, these young, hungry performers will be challenged in ways that are unimaginable. Someone has spiked the Sangria with a nasty drug, and people are starting to feel and feed off of the effects of it. Before anyone can realize, the night devolves into a volatile mixture of hate, passion and absurdity. Every minute suddenly becomes a fight for survival, as everyone succumbs to their deepest insecurities.

By trapping us and his characters into a single room, Noe presents us with human nature completely unchecked. Sex, violence and drugs take center stage (as in his other films), showing us who we are at our worst selves. Spinning off the group’s biggest fears, things spiral and send the troupe into oblivion. To capture all of this, Noe completely immerses us with a camera that’s constantly spinning and weaving in and out of impressionistic choreography. Still, the film’s improvisational style is only ever in service to Noe’s microcosm of human desperation. As his characters lose their minds and then control of their bodies, Noe’s hallucinatory neon-haze becomes more unhinged, drenching everything in deep reds while the camera work grows more unstable and disorienting. It’s here where the film searches for the soul of who we are and the ways we try to transcend. Fittingly, none of this wraps up with a neat bow, nor should it. Instead, it’s a deep reflection of pent up emotions waiting for the right moment to break free and unleash hell.

Climax review Sofia Boutella A24To no surprise, the character performances are as unique as Noe’s aggressive visuals. Each dancer is tasked with building their characters almost exclusively through dance. Aside from a few brief conversations, the rest of the film is told through body language, with characters freaking out and losing themselves to something that’s unclassifiable. If there’s someone that comes closest to being the film’s central focus, it’s Sofia Boutella’s Selva. She is the fading voice of reason, initially giving us something to latch on to. Eventually, though, Boutella has a moment that calls out Isabelle Adjani’s legendary freakout in Possession, delivering an extended scene of sheer insanity amidst a sea of already unbearable chaos. As a whole, this is a true ensemble, with Noe allowing his characters distinct personas and giving each one their moment to shine or completely melt down. It’s wild to see so many characters create an inexplicable and unified portrait of life and death.

Without question, Climax is the next evolution in Noe’s body of work. Even considering his confrontational style of filmmaking, it’s a heightened, more focused version of everything he’s done up till now. From the way it presents itself as an experimental performance piece, to its transformation as one of the year’s most harrowing horror films, this is Noe finding a way to push his art and human exploration further. Just as his characters looking for a fix, so too is the audience, high on the film’s wildly demented descent into madness. Needless to say, this is a ferocious study of existential anguish. It explores the chaos that surrounds life and love, as we spend our lives just trying to feel something, anything. I can ultimately understand how this won’t be for everyone, but those who hang with its unrelenting rhythm will take part in a singular experience unlike anything else. Hot tip: Make sure to see this thing big, loud and inescapable, on the largest screen possible.