Following on from Enter the Void (2009) and Love (2015), Gaspar Noé now gives us Climax and the plot can be summed up in a single sentence: “Spiked punch leads to bad time.”
The end credits, which play at the start of the movie (because of course they do), claims that you have just watched a film based on true events. Whether this is actually true or not, who can say. The story follows a group of French dancers brought together to form a new troupe to tour America. After our jarring introduction to the apparent end of the story, there follows a series of video interviews with the various characters who make up the troupe. This is filmed as if the audience is watching these interview clips on an old TV set. On one side of the TV set are a pile of videos including Dario Argento’s seminal Suspiria, Pasolini’s infamous Salo and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters, not-very-subtly hinting at events to come.
There then follows a dance number where everyone gets to show off. While the talent on display is certainly impressive, more than one of the cast apparently possessing double-joints of various sorts, this is followed by the camera cutting between various conversations going on in the room that range from boring to cringe-inducing to uncomfortable. There is then another dance scene that lasts nearly 10 minutes. Finally, at almost exactly the halfway mark, the cast and director are introduced in a series of on-screen credits, their names flashing up in a series of different fonts and colours.
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The story that follows is a pretentious, overblown, creatively messy and ultimately completely pointless series of events with no pay off, no catharsis and no resolution, fading off into a blank sea of white that ultimately leaves just as much impression as the characters did – i.e. none at all.
Characters get their brief video introduction before we are thrown into the dance scenes and the painfully mundane conversations, which mostly revolve around who wants to sleep with whom. When the night begins to unravel into violence, what little horror there is on show is brief and uninspired. At one point there is screaming coming from somewhere off screen, but instead the director chooses to focus on the struggles of “lead” character Selva (Sofia Boutella) who appears to have somehow got her hands caught inside her tights and is freaking out about it. But rather than investigate the screaming that hints at potentially something more interesting going on, the camera lingers on the desperate struggles of Nylon Bondage Woman for far longer than it needs to.
There is, sadly, no respite as the running time winds down. The tedium is unrelenting. The violence (what little there is) uninteresting and, for some reason, the final 20 minutes or so of the film are shot upside down. Every scene is drenched in red, bodies writhing on the ground in various stages of undress and fornication while the camera swoops and pans and zooms in and out like the cameraman is trying to film while suspended from a bungee cable. What message is being conveyed here? Is there a message? Drugs are bad? Love is a lie? Don’t drink the punch at parties? It doesn’t matter!
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There is no point. No rhyme nor reason to be found here. Things happen because they happen. Noé attempts to shoehorn in some deeper meaning by occasionally flashing up pithy phrases between segments like: “Death is an extraordinary experience” – which just ring hollow and empty.
There are no positives, no redeeming qualities, nothing that can be held up to make this worthwhile. It is a pointless waste of time and an insult to any audience that sits down to watch it. It has nothing to say, no deep insights into the human psyche, no revelations about what motivates a person to do what they do, nor on the sacrifices they will make to achieve their goals.
It only earns a score of one star by dint of the site editors not allowing a lower mark, but make no mistake, this is the new benchmark in terrible movies. Move over Astro, you had a good run but there is a new king in town. And its name is Climax by Gaspar Noe.