It wasn’t all that long ago that we reviewed another Gaspar Noé flick when we took on Enter the Void. Looking back on it, it’s understandable why Mark chose the movie but I think we are all in agreement that, while it was a disturbing and profoundly uncomfortable ride, it’s not really a horror movie and would be difficult to recommend solely for horror reasons. Now, Mark is at it again with his selection of Noé’s new film that IS labeled as horror. Let’s see how it went (but remember that our reviews are spoilery - and though this is kind of a tough movie to spoil, we will do it so beware). You can also listen to our full discussion and review on the podcast by taking that link below if you prefer your content in audio format.
Reviewed by: Jake
This is going to be brief because unlike with Enter the Void, this plot is actually fairly easy to get through. As another plug for the podcast, when Mark had to do a 30 second plot synopsis. He challenged himself to complete it in 10 seconds. he failed but you’re picking up what I’m putting down.
Climax is a film about a French dance group brought together to compete in a competition overseas in the US. The movie starts out with the various character’s audition tapes to give a sense for who the 20-ish folks are who we will join for the ride. I am not going to get into it in this review because this is a movie where you will not know character names and you won’t recognize actors (aside from maybe Sofia Boutella) because many of them are, in fact, dancers. Next, we join the troupe during a rehearsal at some odd school/bunker place where they have been holed up practicing for awhile. As the rehearsal completes, they roll out the party refreshments to celebrate and have a good time.
The first half of the movie follows the characters as they socialize with each other. It’s more of a comedy with dance scenes mixed in than a horror movie during this part, for sure. Then comes the turn… Slowly, folks start to feel/act strangely and realize that the sangria they were drinking had been spiked with drugs. The second half of the movie follows the unraveling of the characters on their LSD trip. Mob mentality breaks out as a few different people are accused of spiking the punch. One of them is thrown outside into a blizzard to freeze to death. Another (who is pregnant) is kicked in the uterus and encouraged to kill herself. A kid is locked in a closet by his mother (the troupe’s manager) in an attempt to protect him from everyone’s bad trip, and he electrocuted himself to death, prompting his mother to slit her wrists out of agony. It get’s dark in a hurry and stays that way until eventually the cops show up and we get a glimpse of the aftermath. Several people are dead, some others are in bad shape, others yet are just fine and still dancing. At the end of the film it is revealed that one of the dancers is the one who spiked the drink. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she is one of the ones who was dancing until dawn.
What the Movie Does Right
There are two things that belong here, and both are very big things.
Thing #1 - THE DANCING. Hey, guess what? Turns out if you want to make dancing look awesome it helps to have actual kickass dancers on your film. Who gives a shit if they are actors? Write a movie that doesn’t ask too much of them and focus on your strengths, it’ll be fine. Speaking of strengths…
Thing #2 - THE CINEMATOGRAPHY. This is nothing new when it comes to a Gaspar Noé film. We saw it on grand display (for good and bad) in Enter the Void and here it is just as awesome. Noé knows exactly how to film things that look amazing and the visuals in this movie are no different. A lot of credit obviously goes to cinematographer Benoît Debie, who also did the work on Enter the Void along with several other Noé films), as well.
I don’t need to say anything else here because I can just show you. Here you go. The below is what the movie does right:
What the Movie Does Wrong
Though you will not hear any of us claiming this Noé flick is not a horror film, it’s still anything but standard and you will not be able to recommend this to people just because they ask for help choosing a horror movie. Climax is far artsier, far more experimental, far stranger etc. Case in point - the structure of the movie. As I mentioned earlier, this film is split into two halves. The first part is definitely not a horror movie. It’s more of a comedy with young people dancing, getting drunk (and start tripping balls) and gossiping about sex. Noé actually throws the credits in the middle of the film, before the horror really takes hold. At the turning point, he throws in all the names and musical credits, and then gets on with it. It is a bold move and one that I did not think worked at all. The immersion I was able to muster during the first part of the movie was completely removed and I found myself starting from square one as the horror ensured. One could probably argue that it was a bit of a palate cleanser, and if that’s the case, it just wasn’t to my taste. See earlier comment about how this is experimental and how it won’t be for all that many people.
The other challenge with this movie, which is also tough on the immersion, is that aside from maybe 3 characters, it’s absolutely impossible to know who anyone is and more importantly, to give a shit about their fate. The character building done during the first half of the film was 100% banal discussion and it did not make me care about the characters at all. In fact, if they had all met a much more grisly end it might have made a little more sense. Again, with a movie like this, plenty of people are going to defend it and make an argument for the choice. That’s fine, but it didn’t work for me and it wont work for many, many people.
Story: 5 - The basic concept here is simple and solid enough. It’s actually not all that outrageous. The scary part is what could happen when a mob mentality takes hold, not the fact that everybody got dosed.
World-Building / Immersion: 7 - Despite the challenges I had with some of the things in this film (highlighted in the does wrong section of the review), this is a pretty marvelous movie to look at and it’s not hard to lose yourself in one of the many incredibly constructed scenes. The contained world of the school with the storm raging outside is simple and effective, even if the people inside are pretty much just sacks of meat we don’t care about.
Scare-Factor: 2 - The mob elements of this are frightening, but outside of that, this starts out as half a horror movie in terms of runtime and even then, it’s experimental and stylized and not all that much actually happens when compared to the heinousness of typical genre fare.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7 -This is about as high as I can go in this category considering the bread and butter is the cinematography and the beats. There is little work to be done in terms of major effects work and that’s just fine, but it keeps the rating from being in the top quartile.
Overall: 6.5 - I enjoyed watching this. I’m not sure I will ever see it again (I will watch the dance scenes again though), but I’m happy I saw it. However, I don’t know who I will be able to recommend it to.