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Review: CLIMAX (2018) – Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival 2018

Best known for 2002’s IRREVERSIBLE, Gaspar Noé is no stranger to controversy. And with his latest film, CLIMAX, he’s outdone himself and produced the most disturbing film in the STEP UP franchise. OK, I may be overstating a bit, but this is a film that misfires badly. Indeed, it’s the least enjoyable climax I’ve ever had.

CLIMAX starts off on a great note as a dance company is finishing several days of intensive rehearsals, (most of the cast are dancers with no previous film experience), and blowing off steam with a massive party. One featuring lots of dancing, of course. The party ironically begins with a seemingly endless remix of Patrick Hernandez’s “Born To Be Alive” and the dancing and cinematography are equally brilliant.

This is also the most disturbing part of the film, in many ways. As the dancing and drinking go on, we hear bits and pieces of various conversations going on. Some of the attitudes expressed in these conversations are pretty reprehensible. Two friends talk casually about how easily it would be to anally rape one of the female dancers, for example. There are almost no decent characters in the film, and we get quite an earful from several of them.

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It’s when CLIMAX should turn up the disturbing to eleven though that it falls apart. It seems the sangria they’ve been drinking has been heavily dosed with LSD. As it begins to kick in, the dancers turn on each other, verbally and physically.

But rather than build on the discussions in the film’s first part, it goes off on multiple, mostly random tangents. CLIMAX also tends to aim its nastiness at soft targets that Noé knows will provoke a response. A young child, a pregnant woman, etc. It isn’t shocking anymore, it’s just cliché and tired.

The end result is a final act that could be re-titled ACID MADNESS with its poorly staged attempt at turning the rehearsal space into a Hellscape complete with red lighting, distorted images, (the camera seems constantly upside down), and writhing bodies. It looks like something from a bad 70s drugsploitation film, or one of the anti-drug films you got shown in high school. Only with better cinematography and soundtrack.

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Filled with pretentious touches such as the film’s credits showing up randomly through its running time and title cards bearing “profound” statements also turning up with no apparent rhyme or reason. It’s annoying and kills whatever momentum the film manages to build.

CLIMAX is currently finishing up its festival run and will be released sometime in 2019 by A24 in the US and Raven Banner Entertainment in Canada. However, I’d recommend saying no to LSD and Noé to this film.

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