The review I stumbled across for French “dance horror” film Climax (2018) was intriguing enough to pique my interest. It is indeed a unique and memorable experiment, even if the finished product is ultimately more satisfying as an exercise than as a story. Directed by Gaspar Noé, Climax follows a fateful night in the life of a dance troupe who, in the run-up to a planned tour of the United States, is rehearsing a new routine under the direction of choreographer Selva (Sofia Boutella). After a hard-working day of practice, the troupe ends its rehearsal with a much-anticipated after-party. The party begins as a care-free indulgence in drink, drugs, and dance, but the event goes sideways when it turns out that someone spiked the sangria with LSD, leading to a disastrous and tragic bad trip.
Part of the allure of Climax is its free-spirited, “guerilla filmmaking” style. With a cast composed largely of untrained actors, the film is largely improvised, with the actors given license to develop their own characters. The film was then shot — in fifteen days! — in a linear fashion, with the narrative charted and rewritten in progress. The cinematography is largely a single camera performing extended, dizzying takes that wander around the studio, pursuing the dancers from one encounter to the next. Given those circumstances, it’s amazing the film coheres at all, but it does build rather engrossingly, especially in the early spontaneous partying and dance sequences, which were also all improvised. Unsurprisingly, the film does lose some momentum and start to wear out its welcome in the second half, when an outrageous 42-minute take spirals the joyous affair into a nightmare party-gone-wrong. The “bad trip” reactions are over-histrionic; this unrealistic sequence is best viewed metaphorically, I think, as the dancers — many of whom revealed unpleasant characteristics in earlier scenes — meet their comeuppance. Fortunately, the film nails a creepy resolution and final image. I can’t imagine this one finding a wide audience, but it’s certainly a singular experience, with an unusual and unpredictable film-making style.