Given Gaspar Noe’s previous body of work and the less than restrained title of his latest, Climax, conventional wisdom suggests that you’ll know pretty much instantly whether or not this film is for you. Yet, one thing that will surprise anyone, whether they’re Noe newbies or veterans, is that his LSD-fuelled ‘dance party from hell’ movie is, in fact, rather boring. Freakouts and impressive dance choreography aside, it mainly captures the feeling of having to watch footage on a friend’s phone of a party you weren’t invited to – fascinating for the attendee, but a dull waste of time for the outside viewer.
Climax doesn’t have a plot to speak of, covering one night in the lives of a French modern dance troupe as their party in a remote, snowbound school descends into utter chaos after someone spikes the sangria with very strong LSD. Sex, violence, and paranoia abound, though Noe never reaches the same highs (or lows, depending on your perspective) of depravity that he did in, say, Irreversible. This bad trip doesn’t really start until well over halfway through, however, with much of the first half taken up by ceaseless talking head interviews and inane party chat, occasionally punctuated by a dance number.
This first 45 minutes barely feels like a film at all, belonging more naturally in an art gallery installation than a cinema. The interviews cover every member of the troupe, with the exception of Sofia Boutella’s lead dancer Selva, and just go on and on. Annoyingly, they are presented as VHS tapes being watched in a living room, surrounded by the books and films that have clearly inspired Noe this time out. To have these influences so openly on display for such an extended period of time comes across as very self-conscious, oddly insecure filmmaking from an experienced and renowned auteur.
Whilst the move to the party is certainly welcome after all these monologues, the repetitiveness hardly ends there. Though there are some interesting visuals and briefly distressing disasters – a Chekov’s Unsupervised Toddler makes for some effective gnawing anxiety – eventually just watching a series of young, drugged up idiots wail and contort grows tiresome. You’re never given a reason to care about anyone, so the aggressive misery of their experience feels gratuitous, and the behaviour of the undrugged characters makes little logical sense.
Given that the cast is made almost entirely of professional dancers – Boutella is the only established actor of the bunch – their moves are undeniably impressive, and Climax is intermittently mesmerising when this is its sole focus. But the film around these moments is so shallow and uninteresting that, despite occasional flashes of something better, it’s impossible to recommend.