There’s more anti- than climax in “Climax,” the latest act of provocation from French director Gaspar Noë, who has a great idea and is damned if he can actually do anything meaningful with it.
Loosely based on a true story — if we’re to believe anything Noë tells us — “Climax” starts with a feverish premise. A dance troupe, circa 1996, has just finished an intense three-day rehearsal session in a repurposed boarding school, so now it’s time to party. The dancers get down on the dance floor in the multi-purpose room, while Daddy (Kiddy Smile) spins the discs, and Emmanuelle (Claude Gajan Maull) sets up a table of snacks and two punchbowls of sangria.
Noé begins with the closing credits — something he did in the brutal told-backwards drama “Irreversible” — and then settles in with a VHS-driven mashup of interviews with the individual dancers. Then the dancing starts, with exuberant and kinetic performances from the 20-plus dancers, shot in one long fluid take.
Some personalities emerge: The aggressive corndog David (Romain Guillermic), or the close-knit siblings Gazelle (Giselle Palmer) and Taylor (Taylor Kastle), or the apparent troupe leader, Selva (played by Sofia Boutella, the only familiar face in the cast, thanks to “Kingsman,” “The Mummy” and “Atomic Blonde”).
After awhile, Selva and some others start to notice that they’re feeling weird. They soon figure out that somebody has spiked the sangria with LSD, and most of the dancers — along with the DJ — are tripping out.
I won’t say much more about what happens after that, not because of spoilers, but because Noë doesn’t much care what happens next. He lets the characters devolve into their most primal selves. Then they devolve some more, seemingly taking the camera crew with them.
As the movie goes on, the camera that so smoothly snaked around the dance floor and up and down hallways becomes as chaos-driven as the strung-out dancers. There could be an orgy happening — in fact, there might very well be — but it would be difficult to tell from the lurid dark shots composed by Noë’s regular cinematographer, Benoît Debie.
What begins as Noë’s most propulsive movie, an exercise in pure movement and visual sensation, ends up being as hollow as a chocolate bunny, and nowhere near as sweet. Ultimately, Noé has the last laugh, by calling his movie “Climax” and failing to deliver one.
Opened Friday, March 1, in select cities; opens Friday, March 15, at the Tower Theatre (Salt Lake City). Rated R for disturbing content involving a combination of drug use, violent behavior and strong sexuality, and for language and some graphic nudity. Running time: 96 minutes; in French with subtitles.