Someone might go want to check in on the entire cast and crew’s mental state after working on something like Climax for however long it took them to film it. I don’t even know if I’d be comfortable standing somewhere offstage while on the set of this movie, to be honest with you.
Climax is a new psychological and experimental horror film centered around the world of dance that comes from A24 — a company who can make something light and fun like The Disaster Artist and then can also somehow do the polar opposite and coming up with something that feels like it comes straight from Lucifer himself, as this kind of does — and Irreversible and Enter the Void director Gasper Noé.
I say all of this like I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when, in fairness, all the articles I’ve seen on Climax and Noé’s previous filmography (I haven’t seen any of his films up until this point) tried to warn me what kind of film I was in for.
So, please, allow me to warn you.
Loosely based on true events that happened in the winter of 1996, Climax features a cast of around 20 professional French dancers in the midst of practicing for a new show.
Most of that cast is relatively unknown (I’m guessing a large majority of them are actually professional dancers), apart from The Mummy and Atomic Blonde’s Sofia Boutella, who also easily gives the best acting performance in Climax.
The film is set shortly after one of the ensemble’s practices when they’re all tired and ready to relax a little bit.
So, they do what any group of dancers might do — they put on some music, pass out some sangria, start dancing and having fun.
It’s not until after everyone has had a fair amount of the beverage that a few of them start to realize that something doesn’t feel quite right. It’s gradual, at first, but the longer they stand there on the dance floor, the more certain they can tell that something stronger than an alcoholic buzz is starting to kick in.
It’s when one of them begins urinating on the floor and yet continues to dance as if she doesn’t notice when they start to realize that they were right — something is really, really wrong here.
Sooner or later they figure out that someone spiked the sangria with LSD and they’re all now on the brink of the worst acid trip of their life.
As someone who’s never tried LSD before and certainly has no interest in doing so now after seeing Climax, I can’t speak to whether or not that’s how drugs *actually* work (everyone who drinks the sangria is just guaranteed to have a bad trip, I guess? Shouldn’t it be possible that someone would have a good experience?), but it’s the premise that this movie roles with.
What follows it, quite literally, hell.
Hell in a sense that there’s a bunch of violence, sexual behavior, drug use and other nefarious activities that’s filmed in such a disturbing way that it’s really a lot harder to sit through this movie than I expected.
Some people are going to hear that as a challenge and think that I’m calling Climax the scariest or most unsettling film to be made in a while, which is not really what I’m doing. It is scary and unsettling, but it’s not done in a way where the film is trying to present itself as fun and enjoyable.
Rather, this movie just wants its characters to experience Hell and it wants the audience to be right there with them.
What’s important to know about Climax is that just about everything in this movie is some kind of experimental — for better or worse. I mean, the credits roll within the first couple minutes of the movie, the actor cards come in around the halfway point and the film’s title card doesn’t actually hit until the last scene of the movie.
In some ways, that experimental nature can do Climax some favors. There’s no denying that this is one of the best shot films of 2019 thus far. Right at the beginning of the film, there’s this ten-minute one-shot in which all 20 of the characters are involved in this incredibly elaborate dance number, all while the camera is whirling and twirling around with them. In a vacuum, that scene will likely stand the test of time, as it’s really kind of amazing what they’re able to pull off in just that one shot.
We then cut to this really long-winded montage of characters talking with one another about who they want to hook up. It goes on for so long and, as it does, the whole thing becomes creepier and more disturbing that it’s our first clue that we may not be in what we bargained for here.
Then, it all hits, and it’s all just so much to take in that I really found myself not having all that good of a time with this movie.
Of course, I highly doubt Noé’s intent was for anyone to have a “good” time while watching Climax, in which case I guess it just comes down to a matter of taste. While I can get down with weird and bizarre films sometimes — things like mother! or Suspiria are both right up my ally — I can confidently say this one just took it too far for me.
Part of the problem may be that it felt like Climax’s bizarre tone was all over the place. When things start going wrong, they do so in a way that’s downright horrifying. There’s a moment involving a pregnant lady and a knife that unsettlingly to the point where if it had gone on for another 10 or 15 seconds, I probably would have just gotten out of my seat and left.
Yet, later on in the film when things have really escalated, we start seeing all these funhouse contortionists dancing and twisting around in the background, which then feels like a completely different kind of disturbing — almost like the movie knows what a weird premise it has and is trying to lean into that but just doesn’t know how.
In the end, the amount of f-ed up visuals just can’t justify the experience for me. Climax is another case of style over substance, only this time, the style is so in-your-face that you leave the theater feeling kind of sick. There are those who might be drawn to that kind of thing and wind up liking the movie — which, by all means, you’re entitled to do — but it’s just not something that I can get behind.
Watch the trailer for Climax here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!
'Climax' - No fun to be had here [REVIEW]3