A group of dancers are interviewed and then selected for an upcoming tour of America. But first they convene in an isolated school where they run through their moves and, after, enjoy a party. Things take a turn for the bizarre when the revellers report feeling unwell and begin to suspect the sangria has been spiked with acid. They’re not wrong. Over the next hour they debase themselves and tear each other apart as the nightmarish drug plays havoc …
Gaspar Noé’s new film is called 'Climax'. Of course it is. The 'Irreversible' and 'Into The Void' writer-director has never shied away from the seedier side of things, often pushing the theme of sex into difficult and unsettling territory. But despite all the talk about sex – who shagged whom and who wants to shag whom is a running theme – nudity and intercourse is at a premium here. Instead, Noé is attempting to deliver something approaching a new kind of horror, with unrelenting sensory overload in place of the knife-wielding maniac.
Noé gleefully messes with form throughout. A long credit sequence gives way to a long interview process and an even longer one-take shot circling around the characters as they dance and chat (despite the length of these scenes characters still don’t resonate with only Boutella’s Selva a loose take on a protagonist) before Noé drops in another credit sequence. This is the ‘real’ start of the film, where things get a little strange to say the least. Characters first turn paranoid and then violent. They contort and limbs pushed to impossible angles crack. Someone urinates on the floor. Someone is set on fire. Knives are taken to arms and faces. A Dionysian freak-out mixed with that scene from 'Event Horizon'. This is hell.
All through this Noé pummels the audience into submission with his energy-through-repetition style. The bass-heavy (and extremely loud) soundtrack that walks one through late 80s and 90s bangers serve as a backdrop to the repetitive visuals: they dance, talk, dance, talk, dance, talk. Dancefloor moves and dialogue and visuals circle. And then Noé moves from steadycam to everywherecam, with the visuals getting topsy-turvy. Soon it’s difficult to tell once character from another as they writhe and scream in dark hallways and on the blood-red floor. The one single shot he returns to is the Godlike one, imagining a deity looking down on creation and being disgusted with the result.
Noé still has the knack to shock and repulse with the final hour here being an endurance test. What Gaspar Noé does he does very well. I’m just not sure I like what he does.