Climax – VIFF 2018 Review

Argentinian enfant terrible filmmaker Gaspar Noé (Enter the Void [2009]) may now at long last finally have his masterpiece with Climax, an unimaginably beautiful nightmare mixture of ecstatic dance and horror most extreme. An absolutely mindblowing, and occasionally frustrating experience––this is Noé after all, the New French Extremity provocateur behind such tortuous endurance tests as I Stand Alone (1988) and the almost unforgivable Irréversible (2002)––Climax is as detailed and delirious as an Hieronymus Bosch hellscape.

Part Busby Berkeley (42nd Street), part Pier Paolo Pasolini (Salò), the film hits its dizziest height early, and intentional joke or not, it does seem to prematurely pop. After a hasty, though fairly engaging introduction to our cast of characters, members of a hip-hop dance troupe in 1996, we witness a whirlingly choreographed dance sequence in their rehearsal space, set to pulsating era-appropriate EDM and shot in a single, staggering, trance-inducing take.

To say that it’s riveting feels too basic, it’s an all-consuming feat of strength, and probably the most engrossing dance number you’ve ever born witness to. So many different dancing styles coalesce; krumpers, voguers, and wackers, and all with an astounding fluidity, energy, and grace, it’s druggy just to take it all in. Wow.

The rabble of young dancers, led by Emmanuelle (Claude Gajan Maull), after their athletic dancefloor tour de force spend the rest of the evening, and film, partying it up after all their intense training. But before long the film moves from Saturday Night Fever-style dance drama to full-on drug horror as the troupe comes to realize someone has spiked their celebratory sangria with some obscenely high-dose LSD.

It’s not long before the colorful ensemble is at each other’s throats, brutalizing one another and themselves in frightening fashion, and all to the propulsive beats of Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, Giorgio Moroder, and more.

Shot in an astonishing 15 days, and filmed mostly by Noé himself (cinematographer Benoît Debie was more involved in the elaborate lighting than operating the camera), Climax is all uncontained offense, jaw-dropping dread and most surprisingly, a clarity of purpose absent from the rest of Noé’s résumé.

Yes, there were walkouts at the Vancouver International Film Festival screening, and they weren’t unwarranted given the dark and degenerate eruptions of terror––trigger warnings abound––but for the very brave or perhaps the youthfully naïve, Climax is a shocking and sinister pièce de résistance.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.