TW: Violence, pregnancy, suicide.
Gaspar Noé and I share a complicated relationship. I just love to hate him and all because of the terrible, over-sexed Love (my review of it here). I always feel like he’s done more than just that to warrant this reaction but he really hasn’t.
Irreversible (2002) is not a bad film, however brutal and difficult it is to stomach and those, until this morning, were the only Noé films I had seen.
And now there’s Climax.
I bloody loved it!
It still sports all the classic Noé trademarks: the hyper-real dialogue, the not very likeable characters, the rapid descent in madness and Hell – but it’s brilliant. I’ve rented it on Amazon Prime and I’m tempted to go back for another watch because honestly, I was gripped from the get go.
I don’t want to give anything away because – and I say this a lot within my ‘reviews’ – I went in with little to no knowledge of the plot. My lovely friend Matt and I listen to a podcast called Evolution of Horror and during their 2018 horror movie review, the host Mike Mucher and guest discussed their favourite movies of the year. Climax was one of them.
All I remember about it is that they compared it to Suspiria (2018) and coined the term Dance Horror, a sub-genre I am very much here for.
In 1996, 20 French urban dancers gather in an abandoned dance school (familiar?) for a three-day rehearsal before they embark on a tour of the US. In high spirits and gagging for a party to celebrate their hard work, the collective enjoy a night swilling sangria and getting crazy. As there are so many characters it does get quite challenging to keep up with who’s who and more importantly, who’s banging who. As you’d expect, all those writhing nubile bodies need somewhere to connect and so there’s a whole lot of coupling going on.
David (Romain Guillermic) is with group leader Selva (Sofia Boutella) but boasts that he’s fucked every other woman in the troupe on the side. One of dancers ‘jokes’ that he must be riddled with STDs. He’s literally the worst (a classic Noé fuck boi) and the way he talks about women makes me look forward to all he’s got coming to him.
Gazelle (Giselle Palmer) has been dating Omar (Adrien Sissoko) for nine months, much to the disgust of her older brother who maintains that just ‘cos he can have his dick sucked any time he likes, it doesn’t mean she gets to suck any. (This is just a slice of the kind of conversation you can expect from the group, it’s coarse, misogynistic AF and rife with double standard).
We also have Emmanuelle (Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull), a single mum with her son Tito in tow, secretly pregnant dancer Lou (Souheila Yacoub) who has no clue who the father is and young Riley (Lakdhar Dridi), who’s determined to get his cherry popped tonight, preferably by David.
Psyche (Thea Carla Schott) and her lover Ivana (Sharleen Temple) are a couple on the rocks while Daddy (Kiddy Smile) watches over the flock, a grinning teddy bear on the decks. There are many other side characters and nobody here is all that relateable or nice. However, I did feel small mounts of sympathy when things get real quickly. Even David warrants some later on, however fleeting.
Climax works beautifully. It descends into horror and chaos quickly, after a very healthy intro. In fact, the actual opening title sequence starts around halfway through the film (while the closing credits appear at the beginning, and the title card at the very end). The dance sequences are enjoyable and much more accessible that the artistic moves of Suspiria. There’s a lot of Vogue-ing going on and all those limbs! These kids can contort in ways I never knew possible.
Later these shapes and movements will come back to haunt us as grotesque background pieces. Again, without giving too much away, shit kicks off and the troupe quickly begins to unravel. Former alliances crumble as distrust grows and pack mentality wins out. People are punished for imagined crimes (horribly) while others are pressured into taking their own action.
As the horror escalates we follow Selva and friends through the gateway to twenty personal nightmares. Things become disorientated, camera angles turn on their head. The use of colour is very effective, and reminiscent of a lot of Noé’s work – and just adds to the feeling of control slipping through our fingers, even as viewer.
Each room in the school becomes it’s own grimy vignette and you don’t know what’s coming next, what you’re walking into. And the sound – the screams and the yelling as they echo around the building – they hint at unimaginable horror.
I can imagine that anyone going into this with the expectation of traditional horror might be disappointed. I’ve read a few reviews that suggest that apart from some clever camera work not all that much happens. I disagree and the more I think about it the more I love it. It might not follow the rules of your average slasher nor submit to a supernatural narrative but that in some ways makes it worse. The dark side of human nature is terrifying and in this claustrophobic setting, with the lights off and the doors locked – what could be worse than losing control of all your senses?
I wouldn’t say I’m a newly converted Gaspar Noé fan but I suppose I’ll be open to what he does next. I still don’t think I’ll ever be ready for Enter the Void (2009) though.
⭐⭐⭐⭐½ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
What are you watching?