WORLDLY WEDNESDAY: "CLIMAX" ON AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
As with any new feature from Argentinian/French filmmaker Gaspar Noé, "Climax" comes with a stern content warning. This film is NOT appropriate for children, obviously. But it's also not designed for people looking for a conventional narrative film experience. If you want a coherent storyline populated by relatable characters in straight-forward situations who are having worthwhile experiences from which they learn and grow as people, you are going to need to look elsewhere this week. "Climax" is an experimental dance film combined with an arthouse horror descent into drug-fueled madness. Noé, whose past films include the brutal backward revenge thriller "Irreversible" and the psychedelic post-death mindf*ck "Enter the Void," concocts here the most vivid, squirm-inducing nightmare vision of his career. It's full to overflowing with nudity, sex, violence, disturbing situations, and mayhem of all kinds. You've been warned.
OK. Glad we got that out of the way. All of Noé's films, in some fashion or another, play around with the extreme limits of human experience. His characters dance -- quite literally here -- atop the thin line between life and death, madness and sanity, modern and primal. "Climax" is set in 1996 within a single large, cavernous building -- perhaps some kind of empty dance school -- which at the start is filled with a dance troupe in rehearsal. Well, it's sort of the start. Technically, the film opens at the end (the climax?), then skips to interviews with the cast -- recorded on VHS, because it's '96 -- and THEN the story begins with rehearsal, itself a genuinely impressive dance sequence.
Post-rehearsal, the dancers throw a little party, drinking sangria, trading secrets and casually hanging out and gossiping as coworkers sometimes will. It turns out, however, that someone has spiked the sangria with a WILDLY potent strain of LSD. The rest of the film unfolds in segments. Some are focused on dance, as the drugs coarse through everyone, making their movements more fluid and extreme. But for the most part, we watch helplessly as the dancers first recognize they're very high, start to freak out and eventually descend into what can only be described as an animalistic state. As with Noé's past projects I namechecked, the technique here is almost supernaturally stomach-turning. Everything from the twisty, gyroscopic cinematography to the droning bass-driven soundtrack to the dancing itself is designed to throw the viewer off-balance, to vaguely simulate the sensation of doing hard drugs.
Sure, Noé definitely has some real questions on his mind. How much of the dancers' drug-induced behavior was already inside of them, all along? Is the LSD merely bringing these feelings out to the surface, or are the drugs making everything more twisted and depraved? Some moments in "Climax" seem to suggest that LSD is simply bringing everyone's truth -- good or bad -- to the surface, but we're also constantly reminded that these are not normal, everyday circumstances. The drugs have fundamentally changed the space in which these dancers exist. For the film's last 45 minutes, we're in a neon hell, full of blood and screams. Maybe just being in that environment changes a person, turns compassion to cruelty and tenderness to panic.
So, yes, "Climax" is about stuff. But I'm recommending it not because it's so smart or savvy, but because it's such an immersive experience. Even though that experience you're being immersed in is a nightmare no one would actually want to be inside. That's the power of a film. You get to dip a toe into what it would be like to be a dancer, high on LSD, locked inside a school, covered in blood and screaming, without having to actually do any of those things. They should probably put that on the DVD box.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video
Running time: 96 minutes
Genre: Arthouse dance horror (a first for Inside Streaming!)
In French with English subtitles