In the words of the talking fox from Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, chaos reigns in Climax, the latest mind-bender from fellow provocateur Gaspar Noé.
Allegedly loosely based on real events, the film flexes its outsider status from the get-go by gleefully playing with audience expectations regarding credits. Over harrowing, bloody imagery against a pristine snowy white backdrop, Noé rebelliously shares the end credits first in crowded, barely decipherable text blocks, saving the IDs of the cast, crew, and musical contributions for surprise blasts in energetic fonts at the halfway mark.
The unconventionality continues as VHS copies of Suspiria (1977), Un Chien Andalou, and similarly trippy fare are stacked around the TV on which the characters’ patience-testing introductory interviews play.
For observant eyes, these influential films offer a warning of the boundary-pushing to come, and though Climax resembles the new Suspiria more than the Argento original, it packs an energy and intrigue lacking from Luca Guadanino’s pretentious snoozer.
Set entirely in a crumbling dance academy outside of Paris during the winter of 1996, Climax seemingly explores every crevice of the single location, offering a phenomenal sense of place from which to enact its insanity.
Though nothing quite tops the first interior shot, an elaborate single take of complex dancing and involved interactions between a wide range of characters, the subsequent shift to short, choppier conversations among pairs of dancers, many of whom bluntly discuss sexual topics, is propulsive in a different manner.
Noé continues to play with styles as sangria spiked with LSD begins to work its dark magic on the dancers, at one point turning his camera upside down to create the dizzying feel of the characters existing on the ceiling — an effect in line with the emotions many of the players are experiencing.
As is the case with much of Climax, however, Noé isn’t sure when to pull back on this particular visual trick and its prolonged use tips the perspective from enthralling to excessive and somewhat nauseous.
There’s also the matter of whether or not there’s a point to the exercise, or if the LSD witch hunt and how it brings out the worst in certain people is what truly interests Noé. Intentionality aside, the filmmaker’s willingness to take risks — a good number of which don’t quite work — and present them in generally accessible ways warrants commendation and should inspire more directors to refuse to play it safe.
Grade: B-minus. Rated R. Starts March 15 at Grail Moviehouse