Movie review: ‘Climax’

Brad Keefe

I attended the recent screening of Gaspar Noe's “Climax” in the midst of a cold and possibly a fever. I don't recommend this particular experience. Noe's films are already enough of a fever dream on their own.

The French-Argentine auteur/provocateur is well known for head trips and pushing boundaries, and this one is no exception.

With 2002's “Irreversible,” he told a violent revenge tale in reverse chronology in a film infamous for a disturbing depiction of rape. In “Enter the Void,” from 2010, he explored life, death and drugs in a psychedelic afterlife. In 2015, he turned his sights towards love and desire with “Love,” a film that featured unsimulated sex … in 3D.

This is my way of flashing this warning: Gaspar Noe movies are definitely not for everyone.

Yet if I went in somewhat knowing what to expect from Noe, I didn't know what to expect from “Climax.”

We meet a young French dance troupe through a series of first-person interviews with the off-screen troupe director. It's a diverse group with a shared love of dance and movement.

After this, the entire film is set in an isolated former school where the troupe has gathered to rehearse.

A single-shot opening scene is a jaw-dropping display of dance, filmed overhead by Noe himself and lit by cinematographer Benoit Debie (“Spring Breakers,” “Enter the Void”).

Then the troupe breaks for an after party, a seemingly carefree gathering of young dancers where the beats and sangria flow.

The camera wanders through to evoke the feeling that the audience is a guest. Dancers gossip about rivals, aspirations and sex. Lots of sex.

But soon it's discovered that someone has laced the sangria nearly everyone has been imbibing with LSD.

From there, “Climax” descends into a nightmarish hell, becoming a kind of anxiety- and neurosis-driven horror film.

So, like I said, not for everyone.

I had to sleep on “Climax” for my opinion to really jell. It wasn't what I was expecting, and it was almost tame by Noe's standards (which still means not tame by anyone else's).

It's more atmospheric than his previous hallucinatory work. We never flash into “trip mode” in the perspective of the dancers (mostly professional dancers with actress Sofia Boutella in a de facto lead role). It's mostly pulsing beats and moody lighting with brilliant camerawork.

I think I was expecting a sharp break, a moment where it all goes wrong. The plotting is confounding. It doesn't take a left turn into chaos. It's a warm bath that Noe turns up to a screaming boil by the end.

“Climax” is a happy society that breaks down into chaos before our eyes over a single night. It's sure to be divisive, but it stokes anxiety with added social commentary in a way that reminded me a lot of Darren Aronofsky's equally divisive “Mother!”

If you like a wild ride, here's one.

Opens Thursday

4 stars out of 5