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“It’s a nightmare!” Gaspar Noé’s latest is a typically confrontational cocktail of music and horror; a trance-like stew of contorting, krumping, waacking weirdness that drops on its audience like the bucket of blood from Carrie. It’s purportedly based on the true story of a dance troupe’s descent into drug-addled delirium, although the result looks like it was torn straight from Noé’s twisted cinematic imagination.
As always, he’s out to provoke, with gleeful teaser posters screaming: “You despised I Stand Alone, you hated Irréversible, you loathed Enter the Void, you cursed Love, now try Climax”, accompanied by an image of the Argentina-born, Paris-based director raising a glass with a demonic grin. But the element of dance brings something new to Noé’s somewhat jaded palette – a shot in the arm for his over-familiar tropes.
We begin at the end, with an overhead shot of a figure dressed in black, stumbling across snow, before falling to the ground – a shrieking, blood-splattered snow-angel. From here, we flash back to the beginning; a series of taped audition interviews with dancers, played on an old TV (it’s the mid-1990s) alongside which sit VHS tapes of extreme cinema favourites: Argento’s Suspiria, Pasolini’s Salò, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou – all indications of what is to come. The interviewees are a diverse group – male and female, gay and straight, black and white – and they answer questions about their life mottos, their attitudes to sexuality, and what they are prepared to do for the job (“anything!”).
These disparate players come together in a bravura dance number, played out in a school hall that serves as their rehearsal room. A glittery tricolour flag provides a backdrop to their moves, which are captured in one continuous shot as Benoît Debie’s free-floating camera moves among and over the dancers. “God is with us,” someone cries as the number ends. “Now let’s party!” But God is not here, as harmonious accord turns to acrimonious argument, and then to something darker. Sacrificial vibes (“this place has seen some weird shit, I can feel it”) mix with acid-spiked sangria, turning the revellers to marauding lunatics. As madness takes hold, so the camera moves shift from elegant glides to off-kilter tilts and seasick rolls. Demonic fits reminiscent of the infamous “rape of Christ” sequence from Ken Russell’s The Devils are viewed from overhead – Busby Berkeley goes to hell. For much of the final movement, the camera is upside down, with inverted dancers apparently hanging from the ceiling like vampire bats.
Returning to his usual obsessions, Noé exhibits a horrified fascination with the processes of reproduction and destruction. “Birth is a unique opportunity,” declare the intertitles – but in Noé’s world, opportunity knocks you down. One dancer is pregnant, a revelation that provokes violent responses from the baying crowd. Another is a mother whose young son, Tito, drifts helplessly through the chaos, before being locked in a room (“Mummy, there are cockroaches!”) to await some awful fate. At one point, Noé virtually restages the demon birth/miscarriage scene from Zulawski’s Possession (another title spotted in that pile of VHS tapes), evoking the mania of Isabelle Adjani in her most memorably freaky performance.
What it all adds up to, other than a moment-by-moment experiential overload, is uncertain. Noé playfully brands Climax “a French film, and proud of it”, although the prospect of a US tour sparks excitement among the dancers, who cry: “Let’s slay these Yanks!” There are graphic conversations about STDs and anal sex that recall the nihilism of Noé’s “We Fuck Alone” contribution to Destricted, all amplified by the traditional oversaturated palette of reds, greens, and blues.
At some point in the unravelling orgy of sight and sound, I found myself wanting it all to end sooner rather than later. Was it boredom? Or panic? Or a combination of the two? After the trippiness of Enter the Void, the horrors of Irréversible or the 3D cum shots of Love, it’s hard to be genuinely startled by anything in Climax. Yet still it got under my skin, leaving me longing for escape from this claustrophobic hellscape.
Plaudits to choreographer Nina McNeely for putting a spring in Noé’s step, and to the entire ensemble cast, who do indeed go the extra mile. The booming sounds of Daft Punk, Giorgio Moroder, Erik Satie (via Gary Numan) and Soft Cell add suitably doomy background noise. Tainted Love indeed.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Climax review – bad trip at the danse macabre | Horror films