“CLIMAX”— A Controversial Imitation of Bygone Horror


A Controversial Imitation of Bygone Horror

Amos Lassen

In a remote dance school, a team of students are working on special choreography which they have been rehearsing for days. When they finally nail the moves for their teacher Emmanuelle, she rewards them with a special party featuring her famous sangria. As they partake of drink after drink, the troupe gets loose and enjoys a rare chance to relax and enjoy themselves as well as deal with numerous personal issues. They often paired up to discuss problems with health, heart, and one another. As the evening wears on, the dancers begin to experience a heightened reality and newfound determination to invade personal space, quickly deducing that someone in the school has spiked the sangria exposing everyone, including Selva (Sofia Boutella) and Emmanuelle’s young son, Tito, to a dangerous drug. As it becomes colder and snow piles up on the outside of the facility, the students are stuck inside and gradually go mad as hallucinations begin, inspiring unstoppable violence and sexual fury as the evening turns chaotic.

“Climax” opens at the end of the story with a bloodied women crawling across the snow, trapped in some type of hysterical freak-out. That is soon replaced by a television set, with the audience sitting through audition tapes from the dancers, getting to know the group before they enter the school (taking us with them). It’s a VHS greeting process (the film is set in 1996) and, like everything else in the movie, it goes on for far too long, spending time with aspiring dancers as they communicate their personal history and philosophy, displayed on a small screen. The screen is surrounded by stacks of books and videotapes. 

Director Gaspar Noe tends to prefer prizes experience over substance and he sets up a basic arrangement of personal ties, with the dancers letting loose during the party. The students have perfect sync while rehearsing, but they’re a disparate bunch socially, finding large stretches of the feature examining spoiled relationships and thinly veiled desires. The cast is largely made up of acting amateurs, and by the director creating an improvisational atmosphere, we lose the sense of talent. Rumor is tossed around, desire is teased, and needs are often identified as unfulfilled, with cocaine added to the festivities, and the presence of a child is introduced for maximum discomfort. When LSD is unleashed on the unknowing sangria sippers, we watch a game of survival involving players with small brains. 

We see a lot of bodily movement, and fans of dance should find something to enjoy here with the long, “unbroken” takes that capture flexible skill and room ambiance. The nightmare soon arrives with a psychedelic sensorial assault that’s explodes with lots of physical harm (one woman is set on fire, young Tito is locked in an electrical closet with exposed wiring). It’s the type of movie where a character announces her pregnancy and then she’s promptly kicked in the stomach by a friend. “Climax” is predictable with Noe trying to keep his position as a provocateur by recycling his “greatest hits” and messing with structure and form in familiar ways.

“Climax” is purportedly based on true events with its seedy depiction of very a bad drug experience and stunning dance choreography. After we have met the various members of a French dance company via videotaped job interviews, we then meet the company as they let loose for a pre-tour party. The party progresses as you would expect, until they discover the sangria has been spiked, and with nearly the entire company having indulged, everyone begins to have a considerably bad time and things go downhill rather quickly. There is a thin plot and spotty characterization. After the introductions at the start, there is virtually no other meaningful dialogue in the whole film, but there is a lot of shouting and screaming. There is an intimation of a bygone horror. A girl we later come to know as Lou (Souheila Yacoub) marches through snow, flailing her arms before hugging her bloodied midsection, the camera trailing her until she falls into the sea of white. The scene is almost baptismal, as the earth would appear to receive her as a dedication, and in repose she brings to mind a child in utero.

Throughout the film,  the camera seems to be slowly experiencing the effects of a drug. Early on, Noé happily cedes the stage to his characters, shooting them from above as they take turns plying their signature moves before capping the spectacle with a montage of the names of the dancers, as well as the musicians on the soundtrack. And then the camera becomes increasingly one with the dancers and the music, as in the film’s most extraordinary sequence that locks on to the group’s de facto leader, Selva, as if in a trance, following her as she submits to the throes of freak-out, and all the way to her collecting herself and walking past Taylor (Taylor Kastle) as he contorts his body into what seems like an optical illusion.

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