Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souhelia Yacoub
Director: Gaspar Noé
Running Time: 96 mins
Climax is a French film about a group of dancers who spend a wild night celebrating together, but things turn nightmarish when they discover their drinks have been laced with LSD.
Effectively an all-night rave captured on film, Climax is certainly one of the stranger films you’ll come across. Featuring striking cinematography, excellent dance choreography and a pulsating score, it’s a technically thrilling watch, although it fails to really hit home with its descent into nightmarish psychedelia, with the potential to have pushed further and harder making the film a little disappointing in the end.
Let’s start off with the positives, though, and the fact that Climax is an undoubtedly bold and truly bizarre film from beginning to end. Its first half in particular impresses with a unique style of narrative, opening up the all-night dance party with a slick and striking series of episodes that introduce you to the characters and the film’s outlandish vibes really well.
Director Gaspar Noé does a fantastic job early on to grab your attention despite the story barely even getting started over the first act (the opening credits don’t even roll until 45 minutes in), and that’s down to how he handles the film’s striking and bold cinematography, as well as its electrifying dance choreography.
Combining a cast that features some seriously impressive dancing with unique and dynamic camerawork, the opening half of the film is an eye-popping watch, switching from energetic long takes to tight, action-packed still shots throughout. Again, even though not all that much happens, it’s all such a strange yet visually impressive spectacle that you really can’t help but take your eyes off the screen.
About 45 minutes in, the story actually starts in earnest, and that’s where the film takes a turn for the really strange, but not quite strange enough.
The all-night thriller is a genre that’s served up some fantastically weird films over the years, with the likes of After Hours, Stretch, Nerve and Good Time all featuring a bizarre descent into nightmarish madness as the night draws on, but there are few premises that would lend themselves better to that than Climax.
Once the dancers realise their drinks have been spiked with hard hallucinogenic drugs, one would expect the story to descend into total and utter madness, and so it does, as the party gets out of hand, and people’s lives even come into real danger as the effects of the drugs turn nasty both inside and out.
From there, the film turns into a pulsating and visually ludicrious affair, with the camera struggling to stay upright as it takes you down a terrifying hole into psychedelia. And yet, despite all that, I just felt that Climax didn’t go far enough.
That’s partly because the film’s peak of weirdness comes almost just after the drug-induced mayhem kicks off, rather than building towards a harrowing crescendo. As such, while there’s a moment of stunning and terrifying psychedelic horror just about an hour in, you’re left with a half-hour slog to the finish as the dancers are turned into zombies by the effects of the drugs, with all sense disappearing as the party falls apart.
Now, I’m no expert on the psychedelic effects of LSD, so maybe what’s presented here is totally in line with reality, however I felt that the film could have kept building intensity and sheer terror by pushing the boat out even further over the course of the final act.
Rather than the energy-sapping finale that stays in the ever-weakening reality of the party, more could have been done to take you into the horrified psyche of the people stuck in this rave as the drugs get more and more powerful.
While the events that happen are fairly nightmarish, they’re not the harrowing, mind-blowing sort that the characters seem to experiencing in their heads (see the Suspiria remake for how to get this exactly right), and it’s that disconnect between you as the viewer and the people on screen that unfortunately undoes Climax in the end, making its own climax actually rather underwhelming.
Overall, there’s no doubt about just how bold and bizarre Climax is, with striking directing, cinematography, danc choreography and music throughout. While it hits hard through its eye-popping opening act, its descent into the nightmare of psychedelia peaks far too early, unfortunately leaving you with a rather languishing final act that fails to keep pushing the boundaries towards something really mind-blowing, and that’s why I’m giving the film a 7.3.