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John’s Horror Corner: Climax (2018), a very stressful and trippy French “drug horror” about young dancers and LSD.

May 13, 2023

MY CALL: This is hardly horror, nor is it not horror. What this is is stressful, tense, provocative, trippy and unnerving. MORE MOVIES LIKE Climax: Closest thing that comes to mind is the dance horror giallo Murder-Rock: Dancing Death (1984).

From IMDB—“French dancers gather in a remote, empty school building to rehearse on a wintry night. The all-night celebration morphs into a hallucinatory nightmare when they learn their sangria is laced with LSD.”

We meet our cast of dancers like it’s a 90s MTV reality TV show. Videotaped interviews with each performer introduce us to perhaps too many characters with a broad range of interesting peccadillos. They all want to be chosen to work with this great choreographer (their interviewer). Most notable among the cast is Sofia Boutella (The Mummy, Monsters: Dark Continent).

The dance choreography is impressive. We enjoy a long, elaborate, fast and very stylish performance to be followed by a wrap party. It’s really cool! Celebrating their rehearsal, the group indulges in a little party with sangria and, yes, more dancing. A lot more dancing. The dancers, being in their late teens and early twenties, talk about sex… a lot! It occupies a great deal of rather graphic dialogue—who likes who, wants to do what to whom, what they probably do or are like in bed… a lot of that.

So this is a horror movie for dance lovers. But it’s not like Suspiria (1977) nor Murder-Rock: Dancing Death (1984), which are true horror movies. No comparison at all. This film showcases its dancers’ technical prowess every bit as much as it showcases its social horrors once the drugs kick in. It’s basically all about dance… until it’s not. And then it’s all about drugs and paranoia… well, it’s basically about tripping on acid and the domino-effect of things going very wrong.

The violence, what violence there is, is mean. There’s violence against women, child abuse, severe verbal abuse, self-abuse, some ludicrous dangerous accident, mob mentality, and mass hysteria. In other words, this film is a “trigger” buffet. After passing the halfway point of the running time, it would easily be described as a very stressful watch. These young dancers turn on each other readily, with onlookers too wonked out of their minds to know how to react. There’s an abundance of crying, panicking, confusion and screaming.

Some of the lighting styles conjure memories of Argento’s Suspiria (1977) shifting from a blue-lit hallway to a red room to a blue room. And one of the most interesting things about this film is that something active, heated, physical or provocative is almost always transpiring on screen after the initial introductions, even if it’s in the background. Like the sense of our hallucinating dancers, we are overwhelmed with stimulus and constantly wondering which of these stimuli will lead to the next transgression.

I’m somewhat reminded of Kids (1995). Director Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, 8, Enter the Void) captures the potentially diabolical social behavior of youth under the influence of drugs, competitiveness, stress and sexuality. It’s not truly horror, but it’s not not horror.

All in all this was an interesting film experience. I doubt I’ll ever want to watch this again. But that in no way means that I didn’t enjoy the ride. Perhaps it would be more accurate to call this provocative than “enjoyable.” It’s just not the kind of ride I care to revisit, taste-wise. I could say the same about Antichrist (2009), albeit for different reasons.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2023 2:21 pm

    I’m a big fan of this movie! I always show the dance number to my students and we talk about production design and costuming.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 13, 2023 2:23 pm

      That opening dance number was HUGE and just… WOW. Kind of like how Spirited shocked us with REALLY big production numbers.

      • May 13, 2023 2:28 pm

        It’s important too because it shows them as a group that is perfectly synced for their performance. Then the LSD makes them all say Good Afternoon to each other.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 13, 2023 5:22 pm

      I see what you did there. 😉 lol

  2. May 14, 2023 12:47 pm

    I doubt I’ll ever get to see this one, but it does sound interesting. Adding it to the watchlist just in case.

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