By Jon Fuchs, Music Director
In one of the opening scenes of Gaspar Noé’s latest spine-chiller, Climax, the viewer is treated to a montage of interviews from the cast of the film, endlessly describing their passion for dance. The characters describe dancing as an otherworldly experience where they feel truly free, how it’s one of the few expressions of sexuality and queerness they have and how they would probably commit suicide if they didn’t have it. Around the TV, displaying these interviews are stacked VHS tapes of some of the most controversial films ever made: Suspiria, Un Chien Andalou and Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom are just a few. From this scene alone, the viewer has been given a warning that the next 90 minutes will contain some of the most disturbing, depraved images they will ever see. Coming from the director of Irreversible and Enter the Void, that’s saying a lot.
Climax is unlike any film you will see in your entire life. With such a minimal plot, involving a cast of dancers partying in an abandoned school after an especially hard rehearsal, you think it wouldn’t be such a challenging watch. But there’s one little twist thrown in: one of the dancers has secretly spiked the party’s sangria with LSD. What starts off as a charming, excellently choreographed romp spins on its head as the drugs kick in, leading to a second half that’s nothing but unbelievably demented and psychedelic. Even though you never see their hallucinations, Noé uses nauseating camera tricks and long takes to make you feel like you’re really there tripping out with them. It feels more like an EDM-themed roller coaster than anything else, and you’ll be shaking in fear by the end of it.
The out-of-order editing of Climax only adds to the viewer’s disorientation. This even includes the credits, which show up very quickly at the beginning, pause the film halfway through (right before shit hits the fan) to gloriously credit the cast and soundtrack ensembles and then don’t show up at the end of the film at all, leaving you no time to process anything. The always-kinetic energy of the cast, who are mostly comprised of unknown dancers (excluding Sofia Boutella and DJ Kiddy Smile), helps the film begin as charming as possible before getting morbid, without changing its fast pacing. For a mostly unrecognizable ensemble, each dancer does a spectacular job of acting like they’re in extreme danger. The only thing stopping the viewer from believing that they’re in it as well is the fact that they can’t do anything about it. The more the film progresses, the more vile and horrendous the characters’ decisions become, concluding in a final 15 minutes that might mess you up for days after.
Other than the dizzying visuals and excellent acting, the constantly booming EDM soundtrack is another element of Climax that keeps it simultaneously haunting and stylish. Once DJ Daddy (Kiddy Smile) drops his needle on the first song, his mix never stops. Even when characters are in different rooms, the pulsating bass continues, reminding you of the horrors happening off-screen. Featuring household names of French house, disco and IDM, including Daft Punk, Aphex Twin, Patrick Hernandez, Cerrone and Dopplereffekt, the soundtrack helps put you in a complicated mix of emotions, as you spend the entire second half of the film trembling in fear while bobbing your head at the same time. The soundtrack also does an excellent job of working with the evolution of the film to make the atmosphere of some scenes even more disturbing. You may never want to hear “Rollin’ & Scratchin’” or “Windowlicker” ever again after watching this film, and I don’t blame you.
Like every other Gaspar Noé film, Climax is not for everybody and may leave some traumatized. Somehow, Climax is Noé’s most accessible and most brutal film at the same time. Films like Irreversible may have longer, more unflinching moments in them, but none of Noé’s other films are as nonstop disturbing and technically flawless as Climax is. Take a very deep breath before you go into this one. Have a therapist’s number on speed dial, and if you want to truly experience hell, take some edibles beforehand too.