CREDIT: Couramiaud -Laurent Lufroy and Fabien Sarfati/A24

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, Thea Carla Schott, Sharleen Temple, Lea Vlamos, Alaia Alsafir, Kendall Mugler, Lakhdar Dridi, Adrien Sissoko, Mamadou Bathily, Alou Sidibe, Ashley Biscette, Vince Galliot Cumant, Sarah Balala

Director: Gaspar Noé

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: R for A Party Going Wrong in Every Which Way, What With the Drugs and the Nudity and the Peeing on the Floor and the Stabbing and the Punching

Release Date: March 1, 2019 (Limited)

For the most part, Climax is as challenging and painful as the reputation of its director, Gaspar Noé, would suggest. But it also demonstrates that he is capable of great ecstasy. Its tight focus is on a troupe of dancers who are kicking back with a party after a series of intense rehearsals. The cast is made up of non-professionals and first-time actors, as well as Sofia Boutella (whose dance background is plenty bona fide). After starting with a bit of fun with cinematic chronology and some character intros, Climax really kicks into gear when the crew shows off the routine they’ve been working on in an extended unbroken shot to the tune of Cerrone’s 1977 disco hit “Supernature.” The totally uninhibited physicality on display is one of the best examples I have ever seen of the communicative and restorative power of dance. Unfortunately that joy does not last long.

It turns out that somebody has sneakily spiked the sangria with something, supposedly LSD, and nobody is reacting favorably to that punch. The party quickly descends into a blood-red neon mess of paranoia that is unpleasant enough to almost make you forget how you felt while watching that transcendent dancing. Noé appears to be saying something about the fragility of society, with this night of horrors serving as a believable microcosm of how humanity as a whole can be seized by myopia and worst-case-scenario obsession. But that understanding of people’s darkest impulses has been utilized in the service of a cinematic endurance test. I could appreciate the unpleasantness if it achieved full-on unnerving terror. But instead it is mostly irritating.

Climax is Recommended If You Like: Instant Gratification, Followed by an Hour of Suffering

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Bad Trips