On the eve of a tour of the USA, during a raucous post-rehearsal party in a disused school, a street-dance troupe find that the big bowl of sangria they’re drinking has been spiked with LSD and the night devolves into an orgiastic hell of paranoia, madness and death all set to the ‘80s school disco soundtrack of your youth.

“Today a young man on acid realised that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves…Here’s Tom with the weather!”

Bill Hicks

As the immortal, inimitable Bill Hicks once observed, the news rarely reports positive LSD experiences. It’s always the case that a young man took acid, thought he could fly, jumped out of window and fell to
his death. If he thought he could fly, why didn’t he try to take off from the ground…?

This being a Gaspar Noé film, you pretty much know going in that Climax isn’t going to be one of those positive LSD stories and, despite it’s claims to be based on a true story, that it’ll have only a nodding acquaintance with reality. But then again, who needs reality? None of us actually wants to watch a tubby student drop acid in a field and stare intently at his thumb for four hours as vomit dries and crusts in his beard. It may be truer to the psychedelic experience but it’s hardly cinematic.

Like the first ten minutes of his own masterpiece Irreversible stretched to an hour and a half, Noé’s Climax is a bruising, visceral experience, an immersive sensory assault designed to leave you dazed.
But it’s purely that; an experience. Much like riding the pirate ship at Chessington World of Adventure. It’s fun while it lasts but then is soon forgotten. With a soundtrack that throbs at the base of your spine and cinematographer Benoit Debie’s restless camera roaming the halls, twirling and capering on the dance floor, the sickly greens and hellish reds of the colour palette reflecting the changing mood, the
creeping, insidious insanity, Noé puts you right at the heart of the action as events spiral out of control and there’s a perverse, scopophilic joy to the mayhem that unfolds. It’s undeniably beautifully shot, the performances so committed that you worry the performers may have ended up with PTSD and there are moments that genuinely stun and leave you open-mouthed with shock. But, for all its intensity, Climax is ultimately a hollow, vacuous experience.

You don’t care about these paper-thin characters and neither really does Noé. You want them to suffer and, more importantly, you want to watch them suffer, Noé making you complicit in the suffering they
visit upon themselves and each other. And as the camerawork becomes increasingly nauseating and the film becomes increasingly shrill you find yourself mentally ticking off a checklist of Noé’s characteristic
tics: casual brutality – check, nudity – check, body fluids – check, masturbation – check, women writhing in pain – check, agonised screaming – check, sexual assault – check, incest – check, red neon –
check and double check…

And that’s what Climax is really all about; it’s about Noé. Noé the artist. Noé the self-styled provocateur. Noé the enfant terrible. Noé the joker. Noé, Noé, Noé Noé, Noé, Noé, Noé, Noé, Noé, Noé, Noé, Noé,
Noé, Noé, Noé, Noé, Noe…his name flashing across the screen in a variety of fonts, the film a paddle in the shallows of his id, at once both a self-indulgent exercise in narcissism and a pure distillation, a meditation, of his preoccupations and work. Both self-aware and self-aggrandising, Climax is a lot like being repeatedly Danza-slapped by Noé for 96 minutes. “Who’s the boss? Who’s the boss? That’s right,
Gaspar Noé’s the boss, bitch!”

There are some films, you will never watch again.

Shocking films. Taboo films. Films that push boundaries, that challenge audiences, that offend sensibilities. Films that are so dark, so brutal, so bleak, you simply can’t bear the thought of sitting down and putting yourself through them again. I think Pasolini’s Salo may be one of the most chilling indictments of fascism ever committed to celluloid, a warning of the depths of cruelty and depravity we humans can sink to when given the opportunity. It’s also arguably one of the most important films of the ‘70s. When I watched it, it was like being punched in the soul. But I will never watch it again. I simply can’t.

Climax, on the other hand, I will never watch again because I don’t have to. I’ve ridden that particular pirate ship, I don’t need to ride it again. But you should. Everyone should ride the pirate ship at least once.

Judging by its recent rapturous reception at FrightFest, you will either love Gaspar Noé’s latest cinematic provocation, or you’ll hate it. So ignore whatever rating you see at the bottom of this review.
It’s completely arbitrary.

In fact, it’s bollocks. It means nothing. Much like Climax. Just relax and enjoy the ride.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: Climax
3.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (3 Votes)

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