Climax ★★★★½

Consider me shook. Few modern directors can fill me with the full spectrum of emotion like Gaspar Noe. Like Lars von Trier and Darren Aranofsky, he loves to push buttons, annoy, and manipulate his audience. I’ve visibly angered some people after exposing them to his films, and I could certainly see why they felt that way. I won’t deny that there were a few times in Climax where I was quite put-off, but like any well-rounded trip, the highs get so high that the lows are devastating.

Purported to have taken place in France in 1996, the incident performed in the movie is a manic dance party where a troupe of contorted, gyrating euro-trash get an unexpected psychedelic nightmare when someone slips LSD into the sangria bowl. It’s an electric kool aid acid test gone terribly wrong. The first half of the film covers the heavenly and joyful peaks with a dynamic series of one shot sequences that groove and fly along with the dancers. The second half is a hellish dreamscape, an assault on the senses, and a disorienting plummet into insanity and degradation. It becomes like a rave culture update to The Exterminating Angel as the dancers collectively devolve into sputtering animals, attacking each other in orgiastic fits of violence and passion.

For a film with such a premise, the biggest surprise to me was that there is no attempt at simulating the hallucinatory experience like other “head” films. That’s not to say that it isn’t trippy as hell, there’s just not much superfluous effect added to what’s in front of the camera. Cinematographer Benoît Debie’s unmistakable camerawork is the demon to Emmanuel Lubezki’s angel, and one will pick up strong vibes of Irreversible in the second half. The visual rollercoaster is bolstered by a soundtrack I could have handpicked myself. It’s slightly anachronistic for the setting (“Windowlicker” came out in ‘99), but I was dancing in my seat, banger after banger. As audio-visual experiences go, it’s unrelenting and made me feel dirty, but I liked it.

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