Gaspar Noé’s Climax is an out-of-control overdose of epileptic nightmare fuel. It is an unforgiving powerhouse that incessantly bludgeons its viewers over the head with portion after portion of the decadent horrors presented throughout its 95-minute fever dream.
And it’s brilliant.
Climax is not for everyone. In fact, it’s probably not for many people at all. This story of an international dance group’s party in an abandoned school gone wrong should not be viewed by anyone who either suffers from epilepsy or has a weak stomach, because Noé does not mess around. The on-screen atrocities in this French film are more than enough to deeply disturb even the most hardened of moviegoers, but somehow they are presented in a way that makes them almost seem beautiful—and that’s just one of many things that makes Climax so great.
The pacing in this movie is methodical and purposeful, and all of that can be attributed to the aforementioned writer and director. Noé knew exactly what he wanted Climax to be before he even started filming it, and it shows in the production quality. Every single shot in the film is angled in the best possible way to capture what Noé wanted the audience to see, and there are multiple takes of over 20 minutes, in which the choreography is nothing short of perfect.
The opening dance scene in the film is absolutely breathtaking, as the single-take viewing of an impressive display of contortionism and abstract dance is followed by a 10-minute continuation of the same shot. Seemingly at random, the camera follows all of the characters around as they interact with each other during the post-rehearsal party, and subtle facial expressions or pieces of dialogue teach the audience all there is to know about everyone in the dance group. This is a perfect way to introduce the characters without ham-fisting their traits onto the audience with boring dialogue about who they are, and yet, this isn’t even close to the best part of the movie.
The second ultra-long take, which makes up most of the final half-hour of the movie, might be one of the best scenes in cinematic history. So many horrific things happen on screen throughout this nauseating depiction of a group-wide “bad trip”, and all of it looks terrifyingly real. The punches look like they connect. The actors perform their own stunts. Characters hit their heads on the floor when they fall. A girl cuts herself on the cheek with a knife, and her skin reacts realistically: The cut turns white for a moment before blood slowly makes its way to the opening and seeps out. If that clip by itself was uploaded to the internet, it could easily pass as real. It’s just so immersive.
The acting in Climax is fantastic, especially considering all of the actors are likely completely unknown to any American viewers, which makes it easier to believe that they are really the characters they’re playing. Especially wonderful is Sofia Boutella who plays Selva, the character most closely resembling a main protagonist. She has multiple scenes where the camera follows her for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and she is so convincing in her mannerisms that she might as well really be Selva.
The score for Climax is beautifully eerie, and the electronic-sounding synth bass perfectly matches the “acid trip” vibe the film was going for with its visuals. It is used sparingly enough that it doesn’t take away from the movie, but every time the mesmerizing chords rise above the rest of the audio, it’s obvious that Noé put it there for a reason, and it almost always enhances whatever scene it’s inserted in. Just like the rest of the film, the score is crafted ever so precisely to match the visuals and create a beautiful synergy of audio and video that is almost impossible to turn away from until the credits roll.
Despite the countless positives to Climax, it is not perfect, and there are a few things wrong with it. One of these problems is a pretty glaring one: Two scenes are just incredibly long scenes of dialogue, where the camera switches between static shots of characters standing still and discussing either themselves or the other people in the group. Some of it manages to be funny, but after a while it becomes a bit repetitive and dry, especially when certain characters dole out a bit of obvious exposition.
It’s painstakingly clear that Noé has mastered this type of film. Two of his previous films, Love and Enter the Void, utilize very similar styles, and he took the best of both movies to make Climax. With Climax, Noé proves that experimental films like this deserve recognition.
Featured Image by Rectangle Productions