‘Climax’ (2018) Review by Joe Humfrey

Climax is not a film you watch. It’s a film you experience.

Gaspar Noe’s films usually achieve glittering condemnation: ‘disgusting’, ‘gratuitous’ and ‘repellent’ are just some of the common adjectives audiences and critics have found most applicable to his filmography. However, early responses suggest Climax has managed to sway viewers into a new-found appreciation for the divisive director.

So, why the new-found approval? Don’t be fooled into thinking that Climax is a tame imitation of his former efforts, if anything, it’s quite the opposite. What has perhaps been influential in this being Noe’s best received film since I Stand Alone is his willingness to indulge in the style that has so often repulsed audiences. His depraved violence amidst daring neon colours, pulsating electronic soundtracks and indulgent camera-work no longer acts as a side piece but the main attraction itself. It’s perhaps the lack of narrative that lends itself to the films achievement: Climax refrains from offering structure and instead relies on 97 minutes of pure sensation and no one delivers sensation like Noe. 

The plot relies on very little, as can be said for the characters within it. Over one night a dance troupe enter an empty school and after sharing a bowl of spiked sangria, dance their way into a hypnotic, drug induced hell. Each character, from an innocent young child to a heavily pregnant woman suffer in their own hallucinogenic asylum.  However, the brief plot acts only as a skeletal framework for Noe’s aesthetic feast.

Climax prides itself on its visual style and cinematographer Benoit Debie manages to turn what looks like a symphonic Busby Berkley composition into a chaotic, shrivelling mess, echoing across each passage of the film. The first half of the film commands your heart to race and the second sadistically watches as you beg it to slow down. The shots enclose viewers and characters alike: stuck between narrow corridors, spiralling camerawork and torturous dance music, all whilst contained within excruciatingly long-takes that just won’t let you leave.

It’s nauseating and painful to set your senses upon. When you think you’ve reached its worst, it forgets to stop, relentlessly taking you deeper into Noe’s nightmare. Is this what insanity feels like? Whilst it may not sound an appetising invitation, it is exactly for this (the enduring suffering that it projects onto its audiences) that the film deserves its applause. You’re not only a voyeur of the descent into the inferno but a welcome member, dancing alongside the demonic characters.

Some critics have discredited Noe’s artistic ability, labelling him simply a ‘provocateur’, but Climax is far more than mere shock and gratuitous violence. It’s a meticulously crafted piece of work and one that Noe deserves the highest credit for. Each colour, each pound, each movement: the whole disordered mayhem that appears on screen with such gut-wrenching power is perfectly orchestrated to deliver its horrific journey. His precise and outrageous handling of imagery and sound lend to Climax being an innovative and unique example of pure cinema. Noe’s mastery lies in his sensuality, his bravery and his originality and Climax may just be his greatest orchestration yet.

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