Ever since it premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2018, Climax, the newest film by Argentine/French filmmaker Gaspar Noe’, has created quite a buzz.
I have written about the previous four feature-length films by Noe’ in my The controversial movies of Gaspar Noe’ article, which you should read if you’re interested in watching Climax and have no prior experience with the director’s work.
The premise is as simple as possible: in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. The last day, they prepare for a celebration but, since somebody poisoned their sangria with LSD, the party turns into a hallucinatory nightmare with tremendous consequences.
Even though it’s labelled as a horror (and drama and musical), Climax is its own thing. This film, in fact, doesn’t rely on any single convention or familiar elements you always find in horror movies. Furthermore, Climax – in the veins of Irreversible (2002) and Enter the Void (2009) – goes against any traditional filmmaking you are likely used to.
There isn’t a proper story nor progression of events, Climax is a trippy and hypnotic LSD nightmare that you experience in the same way the characters in the movie do. It’s a nauseating, anxiety-inducing, terrifying attack to the senses of the viewer.
In fact, if you suffer from motion sickness, epilepsy and any other kind of seizures, you must avoid watching Climax. This is not a cheap marketing gimmick I’m trying to play to convince people to watch the movie: my girlfriend, who doesn’t suffer from any of the problems listed above, during a 20-minute-long one-take scene had to stand up, go to the bathroom and throw up.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – Climax (2018)
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Climax isn’t like anything you have seen before. Although this unique piece of masterful filmmaking has seeds of the director’s style and previous efforts (most notably Enter the Void and Love, 2015, with hints to Irreversible), Climax doesn’t compare to any other movie in existence, as far as I am aware. It’s truly a physically exhausting, gruelling experience that will most likely leave you shocked and devoid of any energy in your body.
Why is that? First and foremost, cinematography and camera-work are a challenge for the viewer’s sight: the camera keeps moving, fluidly and without quick cuts, to extents and directions we are not used to seeing in movies. At least half of the shots are either reversed or from an above point of you; the camera lingers on the dance moves constantly, it basically follows every single movement of the dancers, making your muscles tense and your eyes tired.
After the characters are introduced through brief interviews filmed in a documentary-esque way, from the first dance sequence until the end of Climax, there isn’t any single relaxing moment in the film. Climax is relentless in showing one intense sequence after the other without any breaks. There is no time for your heart rate to slow down nor for your eyes to relax, as a viewer you don’t have a single window, until the very end, where you can catch your breath. Gaspar Noe’ forces the viewer into this nightmare and doesn’t let them go for a single second.
In combination with all of that, the score for the film is pure panic-inducing material. I never knew that the music by Daft Punk could be so relentlessly frightening and hammering! The mix of pounding and incessant music, nauseating camera-work and stroboscopic lighting truly turns this film into an LSD fuelled trip. Actually, I’ve read reviews where people who did heavy drugs in the past said that watching Climax felt like being on acid and re-living those terrifying experiences all over again.
On top of everything I said before, the content of this film is extremely uncomfortable and sick. Without spoiling anything in detail, Climax either shows or touches upon taboo subjects such as incest, non-consensual sex, misogyny, drug abuse (of course), homosexuality and transsexuality, nationalism and racism.
So, yes. Climax is an endurance test that will push the viewer and their morals to the limit. It’s remarkable, however, that the film has such a strong impact without showing any of the hallucinations of the single characters. In fact, all we get to see as an audience is just how the protagonists experience what’s happening within their head.
Considering Gaspar Noe’s final goal to recreate on screen a hallucinatory nightmare, I believe Climax to be one of the most accomplished and successful films of the director. It’s rather obvious that this is a film not made for everyone: you should either be willing to test your limits or have familiarity with the director’s previous movies in order to watch Climax in the right state of mind. Besides, as I said before, if you suffer from any kind of seizure, watching this film might be very dangerous for you, unfortunately.
Aside from content and visuals, I feel like you can’t review Climax without speaking about the acting. As a film that stubbornly refuses any form of traditional narrative, Climax doesn’t feature any major character, although Sofia Boutella has one and a half sequences where she seems to become the protagonist: the 20+ people involved in this nightmare have, more or less, the same screen time and they all do a fantastic job at coming off as real people rather than movie characters. Every performance is top-notch here, every single one of the actors push themselves to the limit: they all engage in these many-minute-long dance sequences with no breaks that truly and visibly make them exhausted. Not a single one of them shied away from uncomfortable lines of dialogue or refused to film an extremely sick scene.
I went into Climax expecting something ground-breaking and hard to watch, and this film even surpassed my expectations. I loved nearly everything about it. Yes, it might be weird to say considering the content of this picture, but I do adore it. I loved movies that are a challenge, that make me feel like I lived an experience I have never had before. Climax is art in its purest form and I’m glad Gaspar Noe’ always tries to change and improve his style, whether I personally like how it does it (like here) or I’m not fully sold (like in the case of Enter the Void).
With that being said, I noticed two flaws with the movie. The first one revolves around the title cards: since Noe’ wanted to go against traditional filmmaking, credits and title cards appear randomly at points in the film you wouldn’t expect. This decision didn’t bother me personally, but since I complained about it while reviewing Mandy, I can’t be hypocritical and ignore it here: it’s a technique that breaks the flow of the film, therefore it should be avoided unless you truly have a reason to do it. Secondly, I feel like the very last shot of Climax (which I can’t spoil) seems to betray everything the movie had set up until that point. It’s a reveal of sorts that didn’t add anything to the overall picture, so it felt kind of pointless. However, if, in the future, I will come across an interview with Noe’ where he explains the meaning of that last shot in a convincing way, I will bump up my grade by half a point.
I’ll say it clearly: I utterly loved Climax, I watched it three days in a row and every time I had the same uncomfortable/nauseating/challenging and bleak experience. Bearing in mind that this is not a film you’re supposed to enjoy, if what I’ve written tickled your curiosity or if you love Noe’s movies please watch Climax as soon as you can.
Are you curious to watch other movies by Gaspar Noe’? Click on the images to get a copy of them:
EDIT: after having seen some of the extras on the Blu-Ray I could’ve changed some elements of my review, but I’d rather recommend you buy the same edition from Arrow Video. In the meantime, check out this interview with Gaspar Noe’ on YouTube: the director speaks about Climax but also assesses how the industry is creating this mind-numbing super hero craze and making hard for filmmakers who want to tell dark stories to find financial support.
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