Director Gaspar Noe is a talented filmmaker. Over his career he has set himself as an agent provocateur in film, always tackling violent, taboo, and controversial topics. He has an eye for style and a cold, cold heart that is willing to take on subjects that many others won’t, for good and for ill, and he puts his own stamp on them. I loved IRREVERSIBLE, a challenging film that is utterly heartbreaking. I watched I STAND ALONE so long ago that I barely remember it but recall liking it well enough when I saw it. DOBERMAN is a fantastic film. ENTER THE VOID was a pretty film but not my slice of cake. And here I come to CLIMAX an absolutely gorgeous film that tries very hard at saying some very deep, thoughtful things but ended up just frustrating me and making me mad.
CLIMAX is the story of a dance troupe brought together to celebrate one night in an empty building. The troupe is made up of several different cliques who exist within this larger group. They serve as a microcosm of any social group, some people get along, some don’t, and at the heart of it all is a red-hot drama waiting to explode. During the evening someone spikes the sangria everyone is drinking and what had been a fun and carefree night of dance takes on a dark and dangerous edge. Inhibitions are dropped, tempers explode, paranoia spins out of control, and by the end of the night all masks of camaraderie are dropped.
Like his earlier films this is very well made and a very stylish film. We are barraged with beautiful people writhing and dancing and the dance work is film in ways that best features these skilled performers. As things ramp up and the drugs kick in the camera becomes a voyeur that is just as untrustworthy as the people we witness. The colors run to red, the camera spins and shows the world upside down and people lose control. This is an art film through and through and it challenges as these sorts of films tend to. This isn’t so much about deep characterizations but about the horrifying moments, heard and seen, indeed witnessed without the ability to do anything about them. This is about watching people losing control and the realization that for some they just needed the smallest of push.
I can’t say I cared a whole lot for where the film went and any horror was more horror along the lines of KIDS, so the reality of how awful all of us can be when put in the worst of situation. While it is interesting to watch it play out, we’ve seen this before and this offers nothing new other than the willingness to go deeper down the well of depravity than others seem willing to go. There are some problematic issues here. Dancers, already seen by many as flamboyant and oversexed come off as exactly that here – drama-queens looking to get laid or cause mess. Then there are the representations of the Black cast members, too many of whom are shown as animalistic and borderline violent – we are given snippets of dialogue between two men who discuss violent sex and violent rape – and when things devolve into an orgy we leer on the actors of color as they become animals under the sway of the drugs.
Yeah, it’s a pretty film, and it’s interesting, but it offers nothing new other than that willingness to show people at their worst. Alas, we have seen that dance from the director before, several times before, and at this point it’s just more of the same. As the last dance, one of death, plays out at the end we’re left cold and unmoved as nothing was learned, nothing was gained, and only blood was shed. I have seen nastier. I have seen deeper. I have seen prettier.
This is just dancing for lack of anything better to do.
3 out of 10