Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review: "Climax" is both a gift and a curse in equal measure

Climax Review

By mere coincidence, I have now seen two new 2019 movies that both begin with a close-up on a TV surrounded by pop culture that gives the audience clues for what they are about to watch. The first one was "Us." As I sat in the theater to watch "Us" back in March, I did have a good cackle to myself when they did their TV close-up scene. It was funny to see the spines of VHS "The Goonies" and "C.H.U.D." and "The Man With Two Brains" and if you know those movies, its funny to reflect on how they played into Jordan Peele's thinking. It is an odd coincidence that Gasper Noe starts his film the exact same way. We see a TV watching audition tapes for dancers contending to join a dancing troupe. Surrounding the TV is a copy of "Suspiria," a copy of "Eraserhead," a copy of "Possesstion," a documentary about schizophrenia and so much more, and yes it all plays into the darkened nightmare Gasper Noe has planned for you.

If you dig international cinema, you have probably heard of Gasper Noe. He is a crazy misanthrope from France, and whether you like or dislike his movies, they stick with you. The film that put him on the map (for better or for worse) was "Irreversible" from 2002. Anybody who doesn't watch foreign movies probably knows just how notorious this movie is. Whether the smashing of someone's head with a fire extinguisher or the most disturbing, graphic and heartbreaking sexual assault ever, "Irreversible" isn't a movie you forget. Despite the imagery, it is a profound character study on we are powerless to stop our futures, and how precious time is. "Enter The Void" is a visual dream, and also highlights the weird strengths Noe possesses. I haven't seen his third film yet, but it sounds like a typical Noe movie.

His fourth film is "Climax", and much like Noe's previous movies, it speaks in the language of nightmares. But its also a hypnotic fairy tale, even from the beginning. After the TV scene with the dancers, we begin to see each dancer, and each dancer has their own style, their own mastery of a particular style of dance. Its a very interesting way to get to know the characters without any spoken words at a time. The actors are not giving words, they aren't delivering through exposition, they are telling us who they are through their dance moves. Its a bold choice and it throws us into the world of dance. Or I should say, the world of this dance troupe. The troupe has got together for a rehearsal at an abandoned school. Not only is there bumping music and dancing, but there is some after-rehearsal drinking of sangria.

Nobody knows at first that somebody has laced the sangria with LSD. That's how the movie plunges you into nightmare mode. There is a kind of "whodunit" mystery as the dancers try to figure out who among them did this to them. But when a pack of unhinged, anxiety-fueled dancers on LSD trying to solve a mystery goes about as well as you could possibly fathom that it does. And right away, Noe smothers your face in the filthy of the idea. A dancer urinates on the floor, an alleged pregnant dancer gets her stomach kicked multiple times, and at that point, Noe is just getting started. Although oddly enough, I will say this, this is probably the tamest movie Gasper Noe has ever created, and if you have any interest to the guy, this would be the perfect gateway into his career.

Most of the cast is comprised of dancers who have never acted before. The most recognizable face in the movie is Sofia Botella, who was the villain in the first "Kingsman: The Secret Service" movie and she was also in the new Mummy. The overall cast does a pretty good job selling the idea that the people all got accidentally hooked on LSD. While we don't see what the dancers are seeing, we see how their bodies begin to acclimate to the drug. For a movie that was inspired by films like "Eraserhead" and "Suspiria," I figured we'd be in for some trippy imagery. But honestly, ask yourself, what is scarier? Seeing the images of an LSD trip or watching somebody wig out DUE to an LSD trip?

I will say that despite the madness that descends on these wry dancers, it does feel overly-long watching these dancers fall further and further down the Rabbit Hole. But perhaps that's the point. The movie looks like it was made on one continuous take, the uneasy coloring of each scene, the throbbing music, is all enough to make you feel like you are there experiencing all of this with them. But if you really can't get much feeling at all watching a bunch of people screaming to themselves, well you are probably going to wonder what the point of it all was.

Gasper Noe is such an imagery artist that there are moments that have stuck with me throughout the movie and even when you love or hate the movies Noe makes, it seems like they stick with you no matter what. The movie stops in various places to show quotes. One reads "Life is a collective impossibility," another reads "death is an extraordinary experience" and another reads "existence is a fleeting illusion" and all three of those quotes haunts the movie in some way. This is one of the few Gasper Noe movies that wasn't boo'd out at Cannes last year, so I guess that has that going for it. With all the information presented, I will let you decide if this sounds like a great idea or not.

FINAL GRADE; C

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