Climax review – Gaspar Noé's satanic dance-troupe freak-out of sex and despair

The new film from the Irrevérsible director is a woozy, day-glo horror story of a dance troupe who drink alcohol spiked with LSD

Gaspar Noé has served up another hardcore agape-horror - visually extraordinary, structurally and formally audacious. And maybe it is, finally – and perhaps inevitably – anticlimactic, collapsing into a long bad trip of Noé mannerisms: nightmare corridors, red-light-district ambience, nausea-inducing soundtrack thudding, swivelling upside-down POV shots. But who is going to complain, when this director’s climaxes have got so much more decibels than other people’s earnest declamations?

Noé is giving us a cinema of sensual outrageousness and excess that makes other films look middleaged and tame. I did find myself thinking, in the midst of one of this film’s final longueurs, that Withnail should saunter on and say: “Balls, I’ll swallow it and run a mile.” But there’s no doubt it. When Gaspar medicines you, you stay medicined.

The action of this film is a kind of episodic series of spectacular tableaux, a horrendous decline into madness and infernal despair. It is supposedly based on the true story of a 90s dance troupe who held a party after a rehearsal, drank booze spiked with LSD, and succumbed to an increasingly sinister collective freak-out. But I can’t believe that it was anywhere near as full-on as this satanic DJ-set that Noé conjures, moving from eros to thanatos in pretty short order.

As in his 2002 shocker Irrevérsible, things are disorientingly ordered and so are we are procedurally woozy from the outset. The final credits scroll by first, then we see a series of audition-interview videos: a series of fresh-faced young French dancers, trying out for a prestigious US tour, talking about their love of dance, life, sex – and incidentally feeling no little patriotism at showing the Americans how it’s done. Down the side of the TV screen, we can see VHS cassettes of various movies, giving a taster of the influences to come. Then we get the first full rehearsal in a long continuous bravura take, then the uproarious party, then the weird vibe, the suspicion that the delicious sangria is delicious for a bad reason, then the gruesome sulphuric descent.

It is as if Noé has somehow mulched up the quintessence of dance, coke and porn together and squooshed it into his camera. If that sounds horrible, then yes it is, but also, often, demonically inspired. You feel like the silhouette guy getting zapped by the lightning bolt in the “Danger High Voltage” sign. The first dance scene on its own had something scarily extreme about its flailingly superhuman moves. Then Noé breaks out an extraordinary overhead shot and finishes this section with a kind of credit sequence name-checking all the musical acts, all the dancers, and naturally the director himself, and all in vivid day-glo lettering.

Talk about fierce. This really is fierce. Perhaps Noé pondered the possibility of reshuffling the narrative again, and ending on that gobsmacking, showstopping display.

As it is, we get the scary-film unravelling and a small child called Tito terrifyingly drinks the evil brew – someone later calls out in the gloom: “Shit! Tito’s fried!” I admit I was square and timid enough to wonder if Noé was going to tell us what happens to poor little Tito in the end. Maybe the end, as so often in the past with this film-maker, can’t measure up to what has happened before. But Noé makes you experience his cinema intravenously.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Gaspar Noé: 'Six people walked out of Climax? No! I usually have 25%'
The director’s violent, sexually charged films repel as many viewers as they entrance – but at Cannes, almost everyone loved his latest, LSD-soaked dance drama Climax. So where did he go wrong?

Xan Brooks

22, May, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Lux Æterna review – self-parodic silliness from Gaspar Noé
Noé’s mockumentary about a movie shoot going horribly wrong goes … horribly wrong

Peter Bradshaw

20, May, 2019 @4:40 PM

Article image
Donbass review – freakish fake-news kaleidoscope of Ukrainian civil war
Filled with the violence and Orwellian unreality ruling eastern Ukraine, Sergei Loznitsa’s feverish procession of scenes is handled with steely control

Peter Bradshaw

10, May, 2018 @3:49 PM

Article image
Dogman review – Matteo Garrone's terrific portrait of a criminal dogsbody
The Italian director nitpicks gangster insecurities with hilarious flair in this tale of a dog-groomer-cum-smalltime coke dealer

Peter Bradshaw

17, May, 2018 @11:07 AM

Article image
The Wild Pear Tree review – Nuri Bilge Ceylan's delicious, humane tableaux
The Turkish director’s unhurried, magnificently acted film follows a bumptious young writer who returns home to face bittersweet truths

Peter Bradshaw

18, May, 2018 @9:08 PM

Article image
Rafiki review – groundbreaking lesbian romance aims to change Kenyan hearts and minds
Banned in its home country, Wauri Kahiu’s tale of two teenagers’ secret relationship is a fine – if conventional – depiction of the first flush of love

Gwilym Mumford

09, May, 2018 @4:37 PM

Article image
Sir review – sexual tension brews in Mumbai
Social taboos and the status of women form the focus of a delicately observed drama about the relationship between a wealthy man and his maid

Peter Bradshaw

14, May, 2018 @10:51 AM

Article image
Happy as Lazzaro review – beguiling fable of golden, rural Italy trampled by modernity
Cannes award-winner Alice Rohrwacher’s follow-up to The Wonders is a sun-scorched, time-bending tale of a tobacco magnate and a village of sharecroppers

Gwilym Mumford

14, May, 2018 @10:01 AM

Article image
Leto review – wistful throwback to Soviet rock rebellion
Kirill Serebrennikov, currently under house arrest in Russia, mines his own past for this love triangle set in the 1980s Leningrad demi-monde of western-rock connoisseurs

Peter Bradshaw

10, May, 2018 @10:10 AM

Article image
Asako I & II review – Japanese romcom flips the gaze to tell the same old story
Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s earnest romance switches things up by having a woman obsessed with a man’s beauty and then falling for his double

Peter Bradshaw

15, May, 2018 @2:25 PM