Gaspar Noe’s Climax Is a Dizzying, Drug-Fueled Musical Descent Into Hell

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Written By Sedoso Feb

It’s easy enough to do “other people are the real monsters” as a horror theme, but rarely is it done as deliriously well as in Climax.

Gaspar Noé‘s 2018 movie is unsurprisingly abrasive, given it’s from a director who has reveled in making his audience feel exceptional levels of uncomfortable over the years, but it does much more than prod insistently at you to spark a reaction.

Climax takes place in a remote and empty school building that is as perfect a rehearsal space as you could hope for when you’re a young dance group (featuring Sofia Boutella and Souheila Yacoub). There is plenty of space and isolation to perfect their impressive moves, and they let you know how good they are in a stunning opening dance sequence that kicks things off in a celebratory fashion. This is a group you’d love to party with, and party is what they plan to do after enduring rehearsals.

But there’s always someone at the party who wants to take it up a notch. The kind of person who’d get you in some bother on a night out with their ”good intentions”. Here, it’s the person who decides everyone will have a much better time if the communal Sangria is spiked with a less-than-healthy dose of LSD.

The result of this is lots of people letting their masks slip and others just freaking the hell out as the unwanted drug trip tortures their panicked psyche. Not that you have ever done such a thing, dear reader, but try to imagine the last time you had a truly bad trip, and Gaspar Noé’s Climax is like a living painting of that experience. Every lurching, spinning movement of the camera is its own deliberate brushstroke.

While the dancers do hallucinate and lose their shit with hysterical outbursts, Noé smartly distances the film from the safe idea of what a trippy movie should look like. The main trick at play here is the cruel cohesion of the audiovisual component of Climax. The music in Climax is an unending monster, feeding on the nightmarish imagery and growing alongside it as things get nastier and more debauched. Stomach contents flipping almost in sync with the camera itself.

Climax is a nauseating maelstrom of screaming panic, where words dissolve into movement as the film goes deeper down its hellish rabbit hole. If you’ve ever been utterly miserable and very much not sober in a horrible club, the experience of Climax won’t feel all that unfamiliar to you. The opening invites you in with its mesmerizing, upbeat ways, but very quickly, you’d rather be anywhere else than that isolated school.

Things get increasingly mean-spirited and messed up, and by the time we reach the climax of Climax, a hot, purifying shower is very much in front of your mind. Whilst our glimpses of the wintry outside world are infrequent, the temperature clash of hot, agitated bodies and bleakly chilly air can be felt in every frame. The storm of paranoia, hysteria, and violence grows as the night goes on.

The last feeling Climax gives the viewer is relief. It’s incredibly difficult to say you ”enjoy” Climax, but the trauma of that drug-addled descent into personal hells damn well sticks with you. The shift into madness is as subtle as it is sudden. It’s a natural high with a horrifying comedown.

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