By Chris Nashawaty
February 27, 2019 at 02:23 PM EST
Credit: Couramiaud - Laurent Lufroy and Fabien Sarfati/A24

Is it possible to be an enfant terrible when you’re 55? Unrepentant French provocateur Gaspar Noé pushes that question (and your buttons) to the breaking point with his latest transgressive import, Climax.

Best known for his stylishly audacious, borderline-snuff rape-revenge film, Irreversible, Noé comes off like the naughtiest and most attention-starved pupil in the Lars von Trier school of cinematic outrage. But the act is becoming more and more tiresome with each new project that pinballs out of his id.

What makes Climax especially infuriating is the first half of the film actually works. Noé has cast a group of about two dozen real-life dancers (including Atomic Blonde’s Sofia Boutella) who rehearse for an upcoming tour in the scuzzy basement of what appears to be a school or a church. And those early scenes of them voguing and krumping like double-jointed dervishes has a wildly kinetic infectiousness. It’s like a millennial version of Fame shot with a Steadicam and a fistful of speed.

But then Climax spirals into a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to horrific life after someone spikes a bowl of sangria with LSD. As the camera bobs and weaves, the party devolves into a claustrophobic nightmare of chaos, sex, and violence. What’s the point of it all? If Noé wants to rub our noses in the depravity we’re capable of when we lose our inhibitions, mission accomplished. But it feels like a cheap, childish stunt. C–

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