‘Climax’: A dance-filled, drug-fueled horror flick


Certifiably insane dancers, deadly snowstorms, LSD-spiked sangria…no, I’m not describing the contents of a paranoiac nightmare, but rather, Argentine-French director Gaspar Noé’s newest horror flick, “Climax.” Noé has never shied from absolutely shattering audiences’ moral parameters (his 2002 film “Irreversible” is often cited as one of the disturbing films ever made), yet “Climax” still excels in hardcore shock value.

The film wields a deceptively simple plot: a company of French dancers gathers at a secluded school in the countryside to rehearse a routine and have one last hoorah before their newest show premieres. However, things only really kick off when hallucinations and madness set in amongst the dancers, who realize their punch has been laced with insane amounts of LSD. Thus begins the inevitable chaos leading to…that’s right, climax.

“Climax” has some of the most unorthodox and inventive cinematography I’ve ever seen, consistently mirroring the manic energy and decaying psychological state of its characters. A single shot tracks the dancers as they rehearse their elaborate dance routine in the film’s early stages and continues into the exposition of the film, as the dancers mix and mingle at their post-rehearsal party. It’s a hypnotic beginning to a hypnotic film and a jarringly intimate introduction to this wild cast of characters. Noé weaves back and forth across dancers, from David the raging womanizer, to the secretly pregnant Lou, immediately granting us discomforting access to their world.

Image courtesy of IMDB.

As the characters descend into drug-induced hysteria, Noé follows with extended aerial shots of the dancers’ now-spastic movements across the dancefloor. He even ventures into barrel rolls, which allow him to shoot large portions of the film completely upside down. It’s a disorienting, challenging viewing experience but Noé pulls it off with flying colors, upping the anxious ante that purveys throughout the film.

As if the idea of dancers simultaneously tripping on LSD isn’t crazy enough, Noé’s offbeat camerawork merely adds to the overwhelming discomfort that oozes through the film and truly brings you into the characters’ psyches. There were moments while watching in which I felt genuinely unsettled, as if mere steps away from one dancer setting her friend on fire and another getting thrown into the icy outdoor wasteland.

The urgency and immediacy in Noé’s work is akin to that of French New Wave classics and other mid-century Modernist work; its simultaneous detailed capture and twisting of reality is stunning. The film’s final act is easily its most experimental portion, and perhaps to too great an extent. Some of the final scenes are so strange and confusing that they require intense scrutiny to be at all comprehensible. Don’t get me wrong- I’m all about experimentation and ambiguity, but I didn’t exactly enjoy spending 10 minutes deciphering where two characters were standing in relation to each other.  

The film’s performances echo this bizarre naturalism. Sofia Boutella rounds out an otherwise unknown cast that is completely captivating, and despite the ensemble amounting to almost 20 people, Noé allows each of them time to shine. The film’s opening consists of straight-to-camera interviews with each of the dancers regarding their hopes, dreams, and desires for the upcoming showcase, whereas a later portion cuts back and forth between various dancers chatting at the party.

Image courtesy of IMDB.

In this sense, “Climax” feels almost documentary-like, with sneak peeks into characters’ private conversations you can’t help but feel you’re intruding upon. It’s in these scenes, as well, that the film excels in particularly dark bouts of humor, from two of the more misogynistic dancers discussing women on their “hit list” to the youngest declaring plans to finally lose his virginity. It’s an odd tonal balance that works in the film’s favor, enhancing the terror that arrives later in the film.

So what should be expected entering “Climax?” Here’s the trick: arrive with as few expectations as possible. I could ramble on and on about this surreal trip of a movie but saying any more would ruin the unmatched discomfort of watching it. In a film landscape saturated with safe, feel-good flicks, the world of disaster and disturbance in “Climax” is a breath of fresh air. Trade in your zen for mania and catch this must-see movie while it’s still on the big screen.