Why did I go into this expecting something that wouldn’t be bats### insane? Did I forget that Gaspar Noé likes to push the audience to their limits?
Starring Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Lea Vlamos, Claude Gajan Maull, Sharleen Temple, and Thea Carla Schott, Climax is a French-Belgian horror/musical (it’s not that kind of musical) and is the latest experience from Argentinian/French filmmaker Gaspar Noé.
It follows a group of dancers who go to an empty school building to rehearse and party on a winters night. But once they discover that their sangria has been spiked by LSD, they must try to survive the nightmare that has been forced upon them.
If you don’t know much about French cinema (especially New French Extremity) and Gaspar Noé, well I’ll take a moment to tell you about both, as you need to have a slight idea before watching this. New French Extremity films are known to and have pushed cinema beyond its limits. It has brought in some of the greatest “horror” and arthouse films of all time. Gaspar Noé is one of the most infamous filmmakers of all time, and he has made a significant impact on both regular cinema and New French Extremity. Films like Irreversible and Enter the Void are fantastic but are really tough to watch due to Noé’s kinetic direction and subject matter. But as much as I love those two films, Climax may just be his best film yet!
First of all, Gaspar Noé is at his peak here with one of the most insane pieces of film I’ve ever seen (and trust me, I’ve seen some crazy stuff). Noé’s kinetic direction is perfect for this bad trip in the form of a ninety-minute experience. Noé plans the film around a lot of tracking shots that follow a character for a few minutes and then what seems like the same shot (or masterful editing), it just switches to another character who walks past the one we were just following, allowing us to view this hellish party from people who are having different experiences.
Gaspar Noé also uses a cast that is mainly made up of professional dancers, resulting in some of the most excellent dance sequences I’ve ever seen. There is this tense sexual energy between all of them, and it results in some of the most pulsating and hypnotic scenes of the year. The first dance, in particular, is so good that it felt like I didn’t blink throughout its four-minute length. Thanks to the cinematography from Benoît Debi, a regular collaborator with Noé, we get these very long tracking shots, and this is evident within the first dance. We mainly see the dance from the front all in one single take, and then it gradually goes into an overhead shot. But then it just does whatever it feels like, and we get all of these smooth camera movements that make you drawn to this hypnotic dance sequence. I should also mention that it doesn’t cut once the dance stops, and we proceed to get this extremely long tracking shot that introduces us to all of the characters.
Like I just said, the cinematography makes you feel like you’re there and the way the camera is used throughout the film, especially once the LSD kicks in for the characters, is the definition of pulsating and sexual cinema. It’s unreal.
With the cast mainly being professional dancers, I was surprised by how great everyone was. Sofia Boutella continues to prove why she is one of the best up-and-coming actors working today with an amazingly nuanced performance as our “main protagonist”. Watching her slowly go insane is haunting and breathtaking. One shot in particular where she walks down a hallway while crying softly and then just unleashes all her anger and sadness is incredible. Romain Guillermic is also great as another one of the protagonists (look, I’d say there are about four, maybe five protagonists, it’s crazy). He has a lot of raw sexual energy throughout and watching him in this state is amazing.
Everyone else like Kiddy Smile, Souheila Yacoub, Claude Gajan Maull, and Thea Carla Schott are all incredible, and it’s a fantastic ensemble of dancers, with many of them being first-time actors. The fact that all of them are able to act at this standard blows me away.
Another thing I love about Climax is the pulsating soundtrack. Music drives the film and the way the characters perform, which leads to some of the best sound design of the year. Wherever the camera and characters go, you can always hear the beat of the music in the background. Even if a character is in their room having a breakdown, the music is still powerful enough to match what is happening. Then if you have a character that goes from one part of the building to the main room where the party is taking place, the music hits you like a tonne of bricks and your body is consumed by these electronic beats. It also makes each scene feel essential, and the intensity of what is happening is only elevated higher by the music. It’s genius how well this works.
If I had a negative with Climax, it would be that most of the characters feel two dimensional. Even with that, some of the characters we follow throughout the trip feel like they could’ve been fleshed out just a bit more. I know that Gaspar Noé likes to create unlikeable characters, but some of these characters are actually likeable, and I wish we got a little bit more of them. But at the same time, I don’t know if it would have resulted in better things.
Overall, Gaspar Noé has created what I consider his best film yet with a horrifying and hypnotic descent into madness. The way Noé dives into what can make a person go insane has resulted in one of the craziest film experiences of my life. From the kinetic direction, hypnotic cinematography and realistic performances, Climax is a French-/Belgian film experience that grabs hold of you and takes you into places that may be horrifying and tough to handle. But in the end, it’s films like these that result in the most memorable and greatest cinematic experiences of all time, and Climax will definitely be considered as a classic in the years to come.