A French dance troupe descends into a hellish, hedonistic acid trip in Gaspar Noé’s hypnotic Climax

Best known for visionary, challenging and upsetting films about sexual violence and social nihilism (such as Irreversible and Enter The Void), Argentinian filmmaker and provocateur Gaspar Noé returns with a musical-horror freak out that’s sure to be seared into its audience’s collective psyche. Aptly entitled Climax, his latest effort finds the director at an artistic peak with a literal and metaphorical pain orgy that dizzyingly encapsulates his trademark themes.

We follow a French dance troupe as their winter rehearsal after-party in an empty dormitory turns from jubilant celebration into a psychedelic meltdown due to their LSD-spiked sangria. What begins as a kinetic and beautiful exercise of physical expression (the film’s many bravura dance sequences are breathtakingly performed, shot and choreographed) collapses as paranoid anxiety and interpersonal conflicts are acted upon in increasingly deranged ways.

Star Sofia Boutella is surrounded by a large, diverse and impressive cast of first-timers who each get a chance to shine both as accomplished dancers and debuting actors. Despite being relatively free of narrative convention, the dynamics of the troupe’s mini-society are actually neatly fleshed out through introductory talking-head audition tapes and crosscut conversations that almost feels like a more sexually explicit version of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life.

Steadily and masterfully, Noé ratchets up the film’s sense of danger and panic as we track a variety of confrontations from the increasingly unhinged dancefloor, through to narrow neon-lit corridors, and bedrooms that serve as sanctuaries or prisons depending the situation. Flickering between sensual and sadistic, it all builds like a hallucinatory and horrific orgasm, soundtracked to some killer techno cuts from Giorgio Moroder, Thomas Bangalter, Aphex Twin and more.

Although frequently disturbing and disorienting, Climax is a hypnotic and mesmerizing experience. You can’t take your eyes off the hellish, hedonistic mass hysteria unfolding before you. Nevertheless, Noé almost never shocks for shock’s sake, and this film’s bacchanal nightmare is society’s collective delirium in danceable microcosm – exploring the meaning (or meaninglessness) of taboos like sex, drugs and death in visceral and violent ways.

Rating: 8/10

(Distributed by Anticipate Pictures and screening as part of the French Film Festival, Climax is showing between 9 – 18 November at Alliance Française, Shaw Theatres Lido and The Projector. Purchase your tickets here.)