A great poet once said, “Everybody dance now. Dun dun dun dun dun.” Those words have never been truer than in Gaspar Noé’s drug-induced nightmare dance party Climax. Before Climax I had never seen a Gaspar Noe film. I’m too afraid to watch Irreversible and have never been high enough to watch Enter the Void. So with generally positive reviews and a non NC-17 Rating (a rare feat for Noé) Climax seemed like a good entry point. Did it stick the landing?
Set in France in 1996, Climax is about a group of dancers (played by real dancers) selected by Selva (Sofia Boutella) and DJ Daddy (Kiddy Smile) via audition tapes for a new dance troupe. The troupe gathers to practice in an abandoned school one wintry evening and for the first thirty-minutes, this film is the cinematic equivalent to Darrin’s Dance Grooves… But even better! Long shots of full-body dancing to hypnotic ’90s techno. What’s not to love? Just you wait.
Fortysomething minutes in the group unwinds with a fresh batch of Sangria. The problem? Someone spiked the Sangria with LSD. That’s where this movie decides to go insane. The idea came from a real incident that happened in France in the ‘90s. Supposedly nothing too crazy happened but THIS is a Gaspar Noé film. So everything crazy happens.
Where in the first half we interact with these characters through dance and Richard Linklater-Esque improvised conversations, the second half has these characters revert to primitive states. People commit acts of gratuitous sex, violence, and even murder. Most of this insanity is captured in long takes, one even lasting as long as 42 MINUTES! What’s crazy is I didn’t even realize that had occurred until I read about it after watching the film. That goes to show this is an engrossing experiment.
Still, Climax is very much an experiment. The film is an assault on the senses and isn’t always fun to watch. It’s depressing. Which is surprising considering how jovial the first half feels. Nonetheless, it’s a well-made film. On a technical level, it doesn’t get much better than this. An impressive feat considering the film was conceived, shot, and edited in four months to make the Cannes deadline. Which it did, winning the Director’s Fortnight Top Prize.
I love horror movies. Though I rarely enjoy films that blur the line between arthouse and more traditional horror. Let’s call it “Darkhouse”. The work of Ari Aster has been the closest I’ve gotten to embracing these kinds of films that I often respect but not enjoy. Climax isn’t as intense as most Lars Von Trier movies I’ve seen but it’s still a downer. I won’t forget it and it deserves all the praise it’s received but this dance is like a dance with the Devil. I’d rather dance with a lesser demon.