Review – LSD, Dance and a film called Climax

The destructive capacity of human nature is explored in many ways throughout Climax.

Director Gaspar Noé, being the provocateur he is, has an oeuvre dedicated to depicting humankind’s destructive potential. From Irreversible to Enter the Void, he deals with the controversial and surreal. Climax, although no different in form of content, manages to delineate itself with ease. It is something more than ‘horror trash’ that deals with people killing each other. Rather, Noé relieves himself of the common horror genre tropes of a demon or a psychopath, and instead takes a group of people from varying backgrounds, and allows us to observe the inevitable destruction brought on by drugs.

Take a realistic depiction of Lord of the Flies and inject it with some psychedelics, that’s the best way to describe the experience. Just like Lord of the Flies, Gaspar relies on human interaction to drive his plot forward, and make his camera sway with the motion of the terrifying incidents depicted on screen.

In Climax action always takes precedence over dialogue, the amount of which gradually reduces throughout the film. The opening sequence subtly highlights the direction the movie will take by combining dialogue and visuals. An older television set plays interviews with various participants of the film, asking them a series of questions.

What is your sexuality? What do you fear? How were you brought up? What does dance mean to you?

By making the audience consider their own opinions on these rather controversial topics, these questions lay the foundations for the film, and foreshadow the succeeding events beautifully. Similarly, the television set is surrounded by an array of books and DVDs, with the most pronounced being the titles Zombie and Dario Argento’s classic, Suspiria, highlighting the film’s trajectory.

What follows is a visual masterpiece. Noé’s trademark visual aesthetics come into play, with saturated colours lighting the halls and corridors defining every new setting and every destructive action with a new colour. As a result, similar to The Divine Comedy, as Gaspar takes us closer and closer into the different rooms at different times the growing destruction parallels Dante’s journey into Hell.

And into Hell Gaspar takes us! All the way until the repulsive nature of the scenes being depicted makes you want to avert your eyes and yell at the screen.

Gaspar has shown his level of qualification when it comes to depicting these sorts of scenarios, such as in Irreversible, but this film takes it to a new level. While Irreversible lead to a payoff, and Enter the Void was littered with a load of psychedelic imagery, Climax only depicts the scenario that is being faced – and since the film is not going back in time you can only feel the plot getting worse.

Coupling the visuals with some of the most masterful camera work I have ever seen in a film, Noé establishes a few scenes that were truly gut-wrenching, both literally and metaphorically. One such scene is where a woman is being antagonised by the people she believes are her friends for claiming she was pregnant (which she is). What ensues is something that really makes your blood boil. The best part of this scene was the pairing of the camera work with the acting. Without the use of cuts Gaspar is somehow able to shift perspectives from victim to attacker by moving the camera.This attempts to make the audience not only feel like a part of a scene, but also extends the horrifying nature of the imagery observed.

Lord of the Flies came to mind straight away, Piggy’s abuse by the children around him in particular. Yet while Golding delivers his writing to children, Gaspar has no such restriction. It is the camera work, the kind that would once have been so extreme as to make cinemagoers dizzy from the movement, that changes, from his previous films,  and is mastered in Climax. Due to developments in technology and his filmmaking, it seems that Noé has matured and revised his previous work, creating some outstanding moving shots.

The film’s shots vary in length and direction. Following the television set sequence we are delivered into a world of dancing. One extended take results in a great display of dancing prowess. There is no other way to describe the routine; to go into any further detail would destroy the beauty of it.

This is what Gaspar has always been great at – creating a story that keeps you compelled. At no point during any sequence did I want to look away. Even if I was scared by the dancing’s eventual manifestation into a hellish display of bodily transfiguration, I could not remove my eyes.

Plot-wise, this resulted in a necessary use of editing that cut at moments that felt natural. Rarely, if ever, did any cut feel jarring. Instead, it advanced the plot and created a compact linear structure.This meant that the beginning, middle and end could be observed without being blatantly shoved in your face. Noé exploits this structure to create some of the best uses of foreshadowing that I have seen in a film. What began as a line that would make you laugh would literally haunt you later in the film. In particular, the references to brutality would realise themselves as the violence fuelled new and even more terrible events.

There is no doubt Gaspar Noé is a master of his craft, and Climax just cements this reputation. The combination of the camerawork, dialogue, acting, and the incredible soundtrack culminates in a stunning depiction of the loss of human civility in the worst of circumstances.

While the film is violent and disturbing, the true horror comes from the capacity of normal people to commit horrendous crimes – which as per usual Noé has captured so well.

David Paicu

The author David Paicu

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