“Climax” is why I don’t party

TMN film critic gives “Climax” 4/5 See-No-Evil monkey emojis

Hello, welcome back to Truman. Hope you watched lots of movies this summer — I certainly did.  “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “Midsommar,” “Wild Rose,” “The Dead Don’t Die,” “The Art of Self Defense,” “Dragged Across Concrete,” and the befuddling “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” all left me giddy with cinematic satisfaction. Somehow I haven’t seen “Toy Story 4” yet, sorry.

Gaspar Noé’s psychedelic dance horror film titled “Climax,” on the other hand, left me feeling mentally shocked — and I’d happily take Noé’s demented ride again and again. Most sane viewers will detest this film’s in-your-face style and lack of optimism for human society, but I loved it. You will earn my respect if you watch “Climax” from start to finish. 

A troupe of hyper athletic French dancers gather in an abandoned school building to rehearse their routine during a snowstorm. The troupe, led by Selva — played by Sofia Boutella of “Kingsman: The Secret Service” fame — performs brilliant feats of choreographed contortions in one of the best dance sequences ever shot on film. Most of the dancers, however, harbor jealousy, resentment and sexual yearnings for each other, a potential recipe for disaster. After the dancers accidentally consume LSD-laced sangria during the after party, the previously joyous celebration dissolves into an utter nightmare. 

The film targets the uneasy balance between compassion and primal instincts within the dancers (and viewers themselves). When the sangria hits the fan, Noé literally flashes the text “Life is a collective impossibility” across the screen. Life is like a dance of immense highs and crippling lows, and “Climax” illustrates this pessimistic outlook in a 90-minute, unstoppable train headed straight to Hell. When the dancers already move their bodies like Regan in “The Exorcist” from the get-go, it’s not a good sign. 

The film isn’t for the faint of heart, surprise-surprise. Noé deliberately makes viewers uncomfortable despite the euphoria of the opening dance number. Disturbing dialogue, brutal violence and possession-esque freakouts (mostly performed by unprofessional actors, sometimes improvised on-the-spot) are all on display, and they become increasingly pronounced by the film’s mind-numbing final minutes. 

Sure, “Climax” sounds like a pretty depressing film. Who on Earth would want to watch that? Fortunately, viewers can ignore and even mock Noé’s pretentious symbolism and directorial flourishes and instead just go along for the ride. The film’s style unquestionably deserves any cinephile’s attention.

The camera glides from dancer to dancer in entrancing long takes — eventually remaining on Selva — providing viewers with disturbing glimpses into each area of the chaos unfolding among the troupe. Some of the imagery is gritty, some over-the-top. Whether or not viewers are frightened or perversely amused by the film, however, I bet they won’t forget it. 

As the dancers’ world turns upside down, so too does Noé’s unflinching camera, mirroring the dancers’ disorientation. As the dancers lose control, viewers lose their outsider perspective on the horrific proceedings. Individuals prone to motion sickness may also lose their lunch.

The propulsive, thumping dance music never stops playing in the background, becoming downright malevolent by the film’s incomprehensible conclusion. All this style combines to make a film that’s a true cinematic experience. Divisive though Noé’s techniques may be, viewers can’t deny his skill and ambition.

“Climax” is a heavy, trippy and uncompromising viewing that will thrill film lovers but polarize everyone else. In other words, it’s the perfect film for your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer.