Written and directed by Gaspar Noé, CLIMAX (2018) is a French horror film about a group of dancers celebrating after a rehearsal and succumbing to a group freakout after somebody heavily spikes the sangria with LSD. The result is loud, crazy, but at times oppressive and tedious.
Supposedly, the film is based on a true story about a dance troupe in the 90s. It begins at the end, and even rolls the final credits, before introducing us to the dancers by way of a series of audition tapes. From there, we see the final rehearsal, filled with some pretty amazing dance moves, and the after party. After a while, it becomes clear that the sangria was spiked with something heavy, leading to a sinister collective freakout.
The film is highly stylized, with red lighting and odd camera angles and even the camera being upside down for a while. It’s also lightly scripted, resulting in stimulating visuals but very little story and virtually no character development beyond the one- or two-dimensional. The whole thing comes across as a single interpretive dance piece, with the director telling the dancers to just keep dancing in character. What we do get to learn about the dancers is largely (and at length, and repeatedly) that they’re full of themselves and horny. As a result, we may be interested in seeing what happens to them but really don’t care what does. Combined with Noé staying way too long on his sequences, the result is overstimulating tedium. There’s something not quite right with a movie when I’m watching an extremely titillating scene but I’m checking my watch, or that I leave the theater feeling like the movie was 2.5 hours when it was only an hour and forty minutes.
In the end, I liked CLIMAX quite a bit, but in a reluctant sort of way. The idea, the dancing, the madness, the rush, and the overall audaciousness of the film all add up to something unique and extraordinary. But for me, in the end, it ended up feeling oppressive and self-indulgent without a solid payoff.