I’m just going to give it to you straight, I’ve got absolutely no idea what I’ve just watched.
It’s not that the plot was confusing, or the direction muddled, it’s more the case that my brain has simply not fully managed to process the film yet. The nuanced way to describe Gaspar Noe’s 2018 film Climax would be to refer to it as an experimental art piece, one that bends and breaks the rules of film-making in order to try new things you’ve not seen before. The simpler way to describe Caspar Noe’s Climax however, would simply to say it’s completely and utterly insane.
You can tell Climax is a different type of film during the opening quarter of an hour. The film starts in media res, with one of our characters crawling across a beautifully shot snowy landscape, trailing what seems to be blood and screaming hysterically. This is then followed by the credits, then video tapes of the characters for about fifteen minutes. You don’t reach what appears to be the opening of the film until about a quarter of the way in.
Usually in these reviews I’d break down what I thought of the cast, but I’m not going to in this case. The film really isn’t about the characters, it’s about the experience of watching the film. So what I will say about the cast is this: they’re all great, Sofia Boutella particularly (I must say, it’s strange going from seeing Boutella’s wonderful action-packed performance as Gazelle from Kingsman: The Secret Service, to seeing her in this arthouse film).
All are deep characters, which is probably mostly due to the fact that Noe allowed the entire cast to improvise most of the film. It’s not the script that informs who these characters are, it’s the actors themselves. This is all the more impressive when you consider that all but Sofia Boutella and Souheila Yacoub had absolutely no previous acting experience. No, instead of breaking down the cast and characters, I’m simply going to discuss what this film is about and how insanely beautiful the cinematography is. Seriously, I’ve never seen any of Noe’s work prior to this but holy hell is he good at directing.
Climax is about a dance troupe’s party gone wrong. Somebody has laced the Sangria with LSD and now we as the audience get to see through the eyes of the insanity. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Climax is the single most insane, wonderful, terrifying, beautiful, ugly I’ve ever seen in my entire life. There’s a hell of a lot of dance sequences in this film, and each one is insanely well choreographed and shot (Most are done in long shots that I’ve only previously dreamed about seeing in a film. Honestly, I should have started watching arthouse films sooner).
Of course, if you’re not already sold on the film, you’re probably not going to watch it and I can’t blame you. It’s a foreign language film that’s essentially impossible to understand unless you either have subtitles or know French. But to all you cinephiles out there, you should know that there’s a FOURTY TWO MINUTE LONG SHOT IN THE FILM. It’s absolutely stunning, Noe is clearly one of the most talented directors working in the medium today. Every shot is vivid and colourful, every shot means something and it’s plain to see Noe poured his heart and soul into this film.
But, while it looks wonderful, Climax quickly goes from elaborate dance sequences to straight up psychological horror. Drugs are an often used trope in fiction, but never have they been represented like they have here. LSD often causes paranoia, something that is well represented through the start of the acid trip here. Everybody blames each other, but nobody knows truly who to trust.
All they know is that somebody spiked their drink, and at the end of the day that somebody could be anybody. We start during the trip with the troupe casting out the suspected spiker into a snowstorm, and it only goes downhill from there. I could describe every representation of the side effects of LSD in the film, but frankly we’d be here for hours and neither me nor you have time for that. I’ve seen plenty of horrors, and this is still the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve now watched people driven insane in front of my eyes, a long shot on a woman self-harming, and frankly nothing is ever going to be more horrific than these things that seem so insanely real, so humanly possible.
Frankly, no review could ever hope to encapsulate what this film is without saying too much, and saying too much is to spoil the true wonder of this film. So just know that if you’re looking for your next arthouse fix, your next obsession, the next insane dive into the human brain, the greatest anti-drug film that humanity has ever created, Climax is the film for you.