Review: CLIMAX Is Film At Its Most Primal

Film can force its audience to feel a wide range of emotions. Many will elicit heartwarming elements or laughter. Some will invoke fear or heartbreak. And then there are films like Climax, the latest from Gaspar Noé, which will invoke nausea, intense disorientation, disgust, and more. Yet surprisingly, you won’t be able to keep your eyes off the screen. If Noé knows anything, it is how to keep the eyes of the audience transfixed, even when they desperately want to turn away.

Opening with a gag that will put the “credits” scene of Vice to shame, Noé shows off his complete control of the camera. With spatial orientation quickly thrown out the window, Climax quickly separates itself from all the films that have released this year with a complete disregard for the status quo. We are then treated to a 25 minute long-take featuring some of the most insane dance choreography put on film. Noé uses this scene to place his foot on your neck and refuses to let go until he chooses to. Your jaw will drop, and you’ll be afraid to blink due to missing a move that is more back breaking than the last. And the madness has barely begun.

Sofia Boutella as Selva in Gaspar Noe’s CLIMAX.

Just as the film seems ready to take a pause, Climax turns the dial to overdrive and leaves no prisoners. It very quickly descends into the cinematic equivalent of the worst nightmare imaginable. Voices will echo through the halls, intense lighting will fill the edges of the screen, and graphic imagery will constantly emerge from the dance floor. Yet through it all, you will not be able to keep your eyes off the screen. For the entirety of its runtime, Climax never truly takes a moment to rest. It is a wild ride from beginning to end, and constantly raises the bar in terms of shock value.

There are many moving pieces, usually quite literally, in the film, but none more impressive than the soundtrack. It acts as the heartbeat of Climax and resonates throughout the short, but powerful, runtime. Even if the camera is elsewhere, the music is felt through the walls and is always present. It provides a much more authentic experience, which allows for the nightmare to feel simply inescapable. Paired with performances that are genuinely haunting, it’s difficult to not believe the events transpiring before you are true.

Luckily, Noé understood the true essence of dancing, and it made way for a greater film. All the characters are portrayed by authentic dancers from the street, aside from Sofia Boutella, although she has a dance career as well. Improvisation was encouraged and everything was shot chronologically. Rather than speak for the dancers, Noé instead let the dancers convey the story on their own. And each time we see the dance continue, it becomes more and more unsettling. The dancers themselves seem no longer in control, and nature is simply running its course. Existence itself seems fabricated, and it’s difficult to tell reality from illusion.

Sofia Boutella as Silva in Gaspar Noe’s CLIMAX.

Climax is unabashedly a Noé film through and through. There are times when it feels extremely self indulgent. It’s felt mainly through the dialogue at times, but his usual imagery goes beyond the norm as well. Considering his track record, it’s difficult to fault the film for it, but should still be addressed. For those who are unfamiliar with Noé and his work, there will most likely be two outcomes; either an intense hatred for possibly the biggest provocateur in cinema, or a smile so large and the question of whether or not it’s acceptable to display to others. This film will not be for everyone, but it is an experience unlike any other.

It’s truly difficult to imagine anyone else making a film like this. It is small scale, with the impact of a massive epic. It is provocative, but deeply tantalizing and even seductive at times. Climax yearns for all that will witness its glory, and Noé will do all he can to get the audience there. For a film dedicated to the arts and life itself, it relishes in its swiftness. Before you know it, the lights have turned back on and the title has appeared on screen.  No more could be witnessed without a break, and it is here that Noé solidifies his genius. Rather than push any further as he normally does, he instead releases; it is only then that a collective breath will be taken by the audience. Before you know it, the nightmare will have ended, yet you will want to go back for more and more.

What do you love or hate about Noé and his films? Are you excited or nervous to see Climax in theaters? Let us know in the comments below!

Climax is now playing in select theaters.

By Alex Papaioannou

Born and raised in New York. I've always loved all things pop culture, but my true passion lies within film. And the only thing that I love more than watching movies is writing about them! Some close runner-ups are: food, the Yankees, and hip-hop.

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