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Film / Climax

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Climax is a 2018 Frenchnote  psychological horror dance film directed, written and co-edited by Gaspar Noé.

In 1996, a large group of young French dancers is recruited by a mysterious company to star in a new production that will take modern French dance to the United States and beyond. After three days rehearsing a routine in a remote dance studio, the group celebrate by having a party involving dancing, drugs, and a large bowl of sangria.

However, the dancers realize that someone's spiked the sangria, and when it kicks in, their attempts to find out who's responsible are slowly overpowered by the combination of their rapid descent into insanity with the hypnotic rhythms of the music, turning the celebration into a hallucinatory nightmare.

While Climax carries a number of Noé staples, such as its vibrant color, intense story and oppressive atmosphere, the film is unique for its unusual production by his standards. It was conceived and pre-produced in only four weeks, shot in only 15 days, and largely consists of unrehearsed on-the-spot improvisation by the cast (composed almost entirely of real-life dancers with no acting experience).


This film provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: David finds himself having to constantly fend off the advances of Riley because he's trying to seduce Selva.
  • Anything That Moves: A few of the male characters express their desire to have sex with all the girls in the troupe. David, under the effects of the LSD, attempts to throw himself on three separate couples of all genders trying to have sex. He ends up getting beaten up in part because of it.
  • Big Fun: Daddy is a large, jovial man, deejaying for the group and happy to give out advice to its youngest member.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Taylor is extremely protective of his sister Gazelle and gets uncomfortably close to his sister at points, especially during the opening interviews. He makes good on his attraction to her once the LSD kicks in, seducing her despite her saying it's wrong. It's left ambiguous if Taylor did rape his sister: they're only seen after the time cut sharing the same bed, where even though Gazelle doesn't recall anything occurring, she is asked to not "tell Papa" by her brother.
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  • Busman's Holiday: The dancers relax and unwind after their dance rehearsal by... dancing.
  • But Not Too Bi: While most of the cast is bisexual, we see a lot of female-only intimacy but almost no intimacy between men. The closest we really get is Riley and Daddy sleeping beside each other in the morning.
  • Bystander Syndrome: At one point the power goes out, signifying that Tito has touched the electrical cables and electrocuted himself. The dancers cheer, make arrangements to set up a boombox and continue partying while Emmanuelle is agonising over her now-dead son.
  • Casting Couch: During Riley's interview, the DJ asks what Riley would do to get into the troupe. When Riley coyly but knowingly asks what he means, the DJ states that dancers "give pleasure" to the audience, so he would expect some in turn.
  • Choreography Porn:
    • The group dancing in this film is astounding.
    • On a different technical level, the 43 minute shot is impeccable for a cast of non-actors, considering it includes several fights, Jennifer's hair being set on fire, Lou cutting herself open with a knife and several people continuing to dance throughout it all.
  • Closed Circle: The heavy snow outside and the fact that Emmanuelle says she's booked a minibus for the following day suggests that even though they can leave, the characters wouldn't get very far if they did. Sure enough, the one character who gets locked out of the studio freezes to death.
  • Creative Opening Credits: The mid-film opening credits are all presented in a different font, recalling Noe's earlier film Enter the Void's hyperactive credits sequence.
  • Creator Provincialism: In the first half of this French film, the dancers frequently state that the dancing scene in France is much more sophisticated than America. After the film company logos are displayed, the text, "PRESENT A FRENCH FILM AND ARE DAMN PROUD OF IT," appears on screen. As the dancers prepare to take America by storm with a dancing tour, they shout, "Let's kill the Yanks!"
  • Death of a Child:
    • It's kind of to be expected if you lock a young child in an electrical cupboard.
  • Dizzy Cam: The second half of the film increases in this as it progresses, to the point where the final 10 minutes of the film are shot entirely upside-down (with a few cuts in the epilogue to overhead shots.)
  • Driven to Suicide: Emmanuelle kills herself out of despair for losing the key for the room she locked Tito in, which resulted in his death.
  • Driving Question: Who spiked the sangria? It was Psyche.
  • Dutch Angle: A Noe staple, once again used to disorientate and discomfort the viewer and emphasise the confusion and strangeness of the night.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The interviews establish most of the characters' defining traits. Some notable examples include:
    • Taylor and Gazelle are interviewed together. Taylor behaves overbearing fashion toward his sister, while Gazelle shows more independence.
    • Cyborg admits that he once severely brutalized a man in a bar fight and has no remorse, establishing him as The Brute of the troupe.
    • Riley expresses openness to the DJ's Casting Couch insinuations, foreshadowing their close relationship.
    • Omar discusses heaven, establishing him as a devout Muslim who would not drink alcohol as well as the fact that he dies.
    • Psyche states that she hates drugs, which proves to be a lie.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Dialogue suggests that the group members are very promiscuous. David tries to insert himself into three situations under the influence of the LSD and gets thrown out violently each time.
  • Everybody Must Get Stoned: Played for Horror, as everybody getting stoned results in lots of horrific violence.
  • Everyone Has Standards: In spite of being whipped into frenzy by the drugs, the crowd pulls Taylor off of David rather than let him continue to attack him after he's unconscious, admonishing Taylor to let him be.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Only a few of the dancers express a strict preference for one sex. Everyone else seems open to everything.
  • Fan Disservice: Eva is found nude in the shower crying and washing the blood of Lou off of herself, muttering that it won't come off.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • During the opening interviews, films and books including Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Un Chien Andalou and Suspiria (1977) surround the TV set, hinting at the events and atmosphere ahead for both the characters and the audience.
    • At one point, Psyche notes that she had a roommate that inserted drops of acid into his eyes. Guess what she does at the very end of the film?
  • Fun with Subtitles: One title card features text that is upside down. The translated subtitles follow suit.
  • Genre-Busting: It's best described as a psychological horror dance mystery.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The droning and booming soundtrack including Aphex Twin, Soft Cell et al. adds to the oppressive, hellish atmosphere of the complex. You'll never hear Daft Punk in the same way again.
  • A House Divided: Once it's revealed that the sangria has been spiked, the group begin viciously turning on anyone they find suspicious, resulting in people being mortally wounded or, in the case of Omar, killed.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Played for horror and drama, as the entire party spirals out of control into the worst acid trip caught on film.
  • Karma Houdini: Psyche manages to spike the punch without being accused by any of the other dancers or having any negative experiences while under the effects of LSD.
  • Late to the Tragedy: The police arrive the morning after to survey the carnage that had taken place the night before.
  • Man on Fire: When Alaia discovers that Jennifer lied about running out of cocaine, snorting it beside a burning gas stove, Alaia shoves Jennifer and sets her hair on fire. She guffaws as Jennifer screams in panic and agony.
    • At the end its revealed that she was able to put the fire out, however her psychotic trip, burned scalp, constant screaming throughout the movie, and her continued attempt to 'extinguish' it with dirty sink water meant that she still thinks her head is on fire up until the very end of the movie.
  • Match Cut:
    • The transition from David being attacked to the police finding the aftermath consists of two identical shots of David, separated by a title card.
    • Emmanuel and Tito are found dead and curled up in the fetal position, each facing away from the other, with their backs facing the same door that separates them.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • During Selva's psychotic reaction to LSD, she momentarily calmed down after seeing the forest backdrop in the kitchen room. Selva means "Forest" in Spanish.
    • Psyche. The final scene shows her with an LSD psychology book, implying that she spiked the sangria to see how the others would react.
    • The Brute of the bunch goes by Cyborg, a physically dominating type of character.
  • Mood Whiplash: Ignoring the opening scene and the uneasy interviews that open the film, the rehearsal, dance party and character chatter is light-hearted and fun. It's only when Psyche wets herself on the dance floor that things start to take a sinister turn.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Dom is last seen crying in a very desolate manner, which hints she may be regretting what she done over the course of the night (i.e knowingly kneed and stomped on a pregnant woman's belly).
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The film opens with the chronological final image: a blood-stained Lou writhing in the snow. Come the end of the film, once all events have transpired, we see Lou staggering out of the school into the snow.
  • The Oner: Another Noe staple, the film is populated by long takes, once again adding to the unease and discomfort of both the characters and the viewers.
    • The interviews scene is a static shot of a TV for 7 minutes.
    • The group dance scene follows for 5 minutes. Without cutting, the camera follows the dancers around the dancefloor for an additional 8 minutes.
    • Nearly the entire second half of the film, from the overhead shot of the sangria cup just after the mid-film opening credits, is one unbroken 43 minute take.
  • Random Events Plot: After the spiked sangria effects kick in, the story devolves into a sort of chaotic mess of events only loosely connected by location and characters.
  • The Reveal: The driving question of the film, both in-universe and for the viewer, is "Who spiked the sangria?" The last scene reveals it was Psyche.
  • Shout-Out: The acting troupe interviews are framed by a pile of VHS cassettes on the right side and books on the left, all of which relate in some way to the film.
  • Sickening "Crunch!": One of the dancers has contorting skills, and as the film progresses he pushes his body more and more to its limits, resulting in audible bone-cracking as his body shapes grow increasingly unnatural.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Gary Numan's somewhat upbeat synth rendition of Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie #1" contrasts heavily with the visuals it accompanies: Lou staggering through the snow, wailing in agony.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: David certainly thinks so.
  • Too Hot for TV: For such a physically intense film that holds absolutely no bars whatsoever (it's Gaspar Noé, so what'd you expect?), Climax received an R rating by the MPAA - something of a very narrow escape from the dreaded NC-17 stamp.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Dom kneeing then stamping a (possibly) pregnant Lou's stomach and potentially causing her to miscarry.
    • The film's final shot, featuring Psyche on her bed with an LSD psychology book, implying that she spiked the sangria.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Downplayed example during the epilogue. The camera cuts to each individual's position in the morning, showing who they're with, what they're doing and if they survived the night or not.