Drug-fuelled descent into darkness

REVIEW / HORROR

CLIMAX (R21)

96 minutes/Opens tomorrow at Golden Village Paya Lebar/4 stars

The story: On a wintry, snow-blanketed day somewhere in France, dancers assemble in a remote studio to rehearse. This is a racially diverse group, made up of performers of every sexual orientation and dance style who are mostly strangers to one another. As the day wears on, they break for a meal without realising someone has slipped a powerful hallucinogenic drug into the drinks. At first, there is panic, but as the drug takes hold, the dancers lose themselves to paranoia, terror and hate.


Take a small group, strand them somewhere, apply heat and pressure and watch as the animal selves beneath the human faces pop out. It might not be a new idea - the ancient Greeks claimed it first - but this movie adds a new twist. It is far less concerned with locating the beast within than in creating a sensory experience.

Provocative French film-maker Gaspar Noe is a hacker looking for ways to jack into the viewer's brain. The rave-in-hell vibe, with its riot of reds, browns and yellows, flailing limbs and hypnotic techno beats, does the job of sneaking past the thinking portion quite well.

After a quick introduction by lead dancer Selva (Sofia Boutella), Noe's camera weaves around the dancers in long, voyeuristic takes, perfect for eavesdropping.

The first act is mostly high-school melodrama as the audience is introduced to each dancer. They are shown to be a bunch of archetypes: the queen bee, sweet-natured bear, sexual predator and young up-and-comer.

Noe's cast, made up of dancers with little or no acting experience, are not there for their ability to handle dialogue. They are there for their physicality, which they flaunt on the dance floor.

He quite obviously makes this the pride that comes before the fall. Still, the dance sequences, combining hip-hop with modern styles, are an exhilarating watch.

When darkness falls, literally and metaphorically, it comes not as an orgy of violence, but in sinister increments punctuated by shocking acts of violence.

The director has spoken of his admiration for Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968), and Kubrick's influence is there in the cool, analytical way Noe's camera looks at people neck-deep in a horrible mess.

As each cool kid descends into agony, the camera neither looks away nor does it empathise. Like his dancers, Noe has locked the viewer in and there is no way out.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2018, with the headline 'Drug-fuelled descent into darkness'. Print Edition | Subscribe