Climax is a dark, drug-fuelled disco trip that you need to experience

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By Benjamin Smart, Masters in Film and TV

Is Climax another example of shock over substance from one of cinema's most notorious directors?

According to the marketing material, if you despised I Stand Alone (1998), hated Irreversible (2002), or loathed Love (2015) then you should try Climax, the latest release from shock auteur Gaspar Noé. The French filmmaker is no stranger to controversial content but is Climax yet another example of shock over substance, or is it a nuanced approach to taboo based horrors?

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Following the fashion of his previous work, Climax shows beautiful people committing the most horrible acts. The premise is simple. A party thrown by a troupe of dancers at an isolated retreat takes a turn for the worse after LSD tainted sangria enters the mix. What could go wrong?

The film opens with a bloodied Selva (Sofia Boutella) contorting in the snow, a demented snow angel that functions as a flash forward to the aftermath of what’s to come. As the opening credits finish, a shot of a CRT television sandwiched between a collection of VHS tapes provides a montage of interviews with the unsuspecting characters that comprise the ill-fated dance troupe.

The various personalities of all genders, races and sexualities are a welcome addition to the story and their response to an off-screen interviewer’s questions offer amusing insights into the thoughts and desires of what could have been one dimensional characters. Whilst some come across as brainless fodder from reality television, they’re all passionate about their craft. Noé also uses this sequence to demonstrate his obsession with the darker side of nature, with candid questions probing the sexual interests and vices held by the dancers.

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Climax is extremely immersive in its cinematography. A single take dance routine featuring the entire troupe dazzles as it demonstrates not only the technical abilities of the cast but the exceptional camera work which captures the relentless pace of their movements. It’s a sight to behold that is accentuated by the stellar sound design and score heard throughout the film.

Featuring reworked tracks from artists such as Aphex Twin, Gary Numan and Giorgio Moroder, the soundtrack is a character in it’s own right. The union of sound and image has never been so important as it is within Climax. The discordant synth chimes that open the film are an imposing force that become all the more intoxicating as the troupe succumb to their trip.

There is no doubt that Climax is visually arresting but the performances of the actors are sometimes drowned out by the sensory assault that the director inflicts.

Whilst the focus on continuous takes and jaw dropping sound design work in its favour, at times they can also prove to be a source of weakness. Noé’s previous work has depicted the hallucinatory aesthetic of drug use to great success, but with psychedelia playing such an important role in the unwinding narrative of Climax it can feel too enveloping at times.

There is no doubt that it’s visually arresting but the performances of the actors are sometimes drowned out by the sensory assault that the director inflicts. Whether it’s a scene playing out upside down, a stroboscopic orgy, or a steadicam shot of a neon drenched nightmare there’s no shortage of overwhelming imagery.

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Yet complaints aside, it is still a fascinating watch. The dance choreography and soundtrack are worth the price of admission alone but Noé’s incorporation of psychedelic imagery and spell binding camerawork make this well worth the trip. Just be careful with the sangria.

*Featured Image: IMDB / Climax *


Climax is being shown at Watershed on Bristol's Harbourside until Thursday October 4. Don't miss out!

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