Saturday, May 4, 2019

Scent of a Woman

Movies: Her Smell

Alex Ross Perry's Her Smell goes from zero to one hundred in the first act and never takes its foot off the gas pedal. It's an intense, nervy film that follows the downfall of a riot grrrl rock goddess in the vein of Courtney Love and her climb back to redemption.

Elisabeth Moss, in a vanity-free and nakedly vulnerable performance, plays Becky Something, front woman to a 90s riot grrrl style punk band Something She. Becky's atrocious behavior--canceling tours, getting blackout drunk backstage--has reduced the once enormously popular band to playing clubs when they used to sell out theaters. Despite Becky's narcissistic behavior, bandmates Ali van der Wolff (Gayle Rankin) and Marielle Hell (Agnyess Deyn) have stuck by her side even though their manager, Howard (Eric Stoltz), is about to walk away after Becky's antics have nearly bankrupted his company.

Unwillingly along for the ride into Becky's descent into hell is her ex-husband, Dirtbag Dan (Dan Stevens) who is essentially raising his and Becky's young daughter, Tama, by himself. Becky's mom, Ania (Virginia Madsen,) also makes appearances, saddened--though not shocked--at her once sweet daughter's self-destruction.

Perry stages the 2 hour and 14 minute film over five scenes of about 25 minutes each, giving the film a very theatrical feel. It's effective--you get to know the characters right away and see what they're all about. Becky is the epicenter of a shitstorm of diva behavior and abuse, Marielle is the more enabling band member, and Ali is the band member who most aggressively pushes back (only to get dragged back in). The majority of the people in Becky's life are also financially dependent on her in some way or another which prevents many of them from writing Becky off and walking out of her life. They also, against all good sense, love her.

Her Smell (a title which I actually like, although critics have indicated they think it...stinks) is a story about addiction and how an addict--especially one with money and power, in Becky's case--can be a black hole to those around her, sucking up time, money, energy, emotions, and resources.

Her Smell, it must be said, shows how addiction affects rich, attractive, white people. Even after the worst of it, Becky still has a home, has access to her daughter, has friends who come to forgive her, and avoids prison (though she does not avoid lawsuits). Her Smell is *incredibly* white. All the main characters are white, with a bodyguard and a shaman (yup) as the only characters of color. While this might make a certain sense given the genre of music and time period, it was very notable. I mean, hell, the main character's name is fucking Becky. It's for sure a film about white privilege whether the director intended it to be or not.

It is nice to see a movie starring nearly all women that really isn't about femininity. Certainly, a viewer could read "mean girl" behavior into it, or see Becky as a "bad mother", but the film doesn't really make Becky's femaleness the center of things, but rather her addiction and her narcissism. It's refreshing to see a woman behave badly and not be killed or punished for it (but again, this is a white, attractive woman, so she already has a better shot than most). There's something thrilling and voyeuristic about the film, which also feels like a low-key horror movie with an unnerving soundtrack and a volatile main character.

I enjoyed Her Smell. It's not a great movie, but it definitely gets under your skin. Moss does a stunning job playing a woman you can't fucking stand but somehow still care about. And although her redemption does come off as a bit tidy, there's still enough uncertainty at the end of whether she'll be able to stay clean and keep her promises--or relapse into a monster once again--to leave the audience feel shaken.

Grade: B+

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Woman's Liberation

Movies: A Fantastic Woman

I recently had the honor of co-hosting a screening and discussion of Sebastian Lelio's 2017 film A Fantastic Woman at my job. This is the third film of Lelio's I've seen (he also directed Gloria Bell and Disobedience) and he is fast becoming a favorite director of mine.

*plot points are spoiled in this review*

A Fantastic Woman is about Marina, a trans woman with an older partner, Orlando. On the night of Marina's birthday, Orlando gifts her with two tickets to an exotic vacation. It's clear that they love each other very much and are serious about their relationship (they recently moved in together to Orlando's apartment). But later that night, Orlando wakes up feeling sick. He falls down the stairs as they head to the car. Although they make it to the hospital, Orlando passes away from a brain aneurysm.

From this point on, the film is about how Marina navigates instance after instance of transphobia--from the cops who suggest that the bruises Orlando sustained after falling down the stairs might actually be from Marina abusing him, to Orlando's ex-wife who forbids Marina from attending the wake and funeral--all while Marina is grieving and trying to find closure in her partner's death.

Although A Fantastic Woman is a wonderful, beautiful, deeply felt portrayal of a trans woman (played by a trans actress, Daniela Vega), it's not always easy to watch. Marina is misgendered, deadnamed, called a "perversion", forced to strip for an (unnecessary) physical examination, and even assaulted (though not beaten or raped, thank god). Some critics have suggested that the barrage of transphobia Marina faces is excessive, a kind of "tragedy porn" for the audience. But I felt that it was an unflinchingly real portrayal of what many trans people have to deal with in daily life.

Through it all, Marina never loses her nerve and the more she is insulted or told to go away, the more she rebels. She also has people on her side--her sister, her boss, her singing instructor, and her memories of Orlando.

In the discussion following the screening, we had a great discussion about the film, facilitated by three people with academic knowledge and/or personal experience in trans issues and their perspectives added to my appreciation of A Fantastic Woman. One facilitator pointed out the numerous instances when the director chose to focus on Marina's body when it may have not been necessary to do so and asked what the point of that was. There is an especially aggravating scene where Marina is forced to comply with a physical examination as part of an investigation about the bruises on Orlando's body. The camera stays on Marina's bare upper-body, as if to make the audience complicit in objectifying her and staring at her. I didn't get the sense that the director was trying to be exploitative in these scenes, but it most definitely felt uncomfortable.

Even if Lelio had blindspots in making this movie, overall I think it is an important film. For one, he actually cast a trans woman to play a trans woman (unlike many other movies about trans people where they often cast cis people to play a trans character). Secondly, Marina is a three-dimensional character. She is talented, in love, angry, grieving, scared...she is a human being trying to retain dignity while those around her treat her with contempt. Finally, A Fantastic Woman is not a cute after school special about "tolerance"--it faces transphobia full on, but never crumbles beneath the weight of hatred and ignorance. It has a happy ending for Marina and is a film that is full of hope, even in shitty circumstances.

Grade: A 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Put on Your Big Boy Cape and Tights

Movies: Shazam!

Shazam! is a delightful throwback to more innocent action/adventure movies of the 1980s. Directed by David F. Sandberg and based on a DC character, Shazam! walks a fine line between kid-friendly and surprisingly dark, not unlike the films it pays homage to such as The Goonies and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (just to name a couple). Obviously, the film is cashing in on Millennial and Gen-Xer's nostalgia, while also being appropriate for them to take their own kids to. Smart thinking.

Opening in 1974, we see a young boy being emotionally abused by his father and brother during a car ride to his grandfather's. This boy, Thaddeus Sivana, is transported to a magical lair where he meets Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), a wizard looking for a champion to transfer his powers to now that he is old and weak. This champion would be strong, powerful, and smart--he/she would have to be in order to hold the Seven Deadly Sins at bay so they don't wreak havoc on the world in the form of ugly-ass demons. Well, despite Thad being the victim of bullying, it turns out he's not good enough (he fails the "pure of heart" test) to be the Wizard's champion and he is transported back to his terrible family.

Years later, 14 year old Billy Baston (the wonderfully named Asher Angel) is a foster kid trying to hunt down his birth mother in Philadelphia. He was separated from her at a very young age when he wandered off at a carnival (between this film and the opening scenes of Us, carnivals are getting some seriously bad press). The thing is, she never even tried to look for him. I was surprised at Billy's depressing backstory--it's one thing to have a parent give you up at birth because they don't feel equipped to raise you; it's quite another to not try to find a child who goes missing.

The fact that both Billy and Thad both have extreme daddy/mommy issues is relevant since the heart of Shazam! is the meaning of family. Billy is picked up by the police and placed in a new foster group home run by a quirky couple and filled with a lively crew of diverse and funny kids. Billy, not surprisingly, is not into it. He's learned the hard way to never depend on anyone but himself.

Meanwhile, Thad Sivana is all grown up (Mark Strong is excellent as the loquacious, smart bad guy) and is evil as fuck. A scientist, he has cracked the code on how to release the Seven Deadly Sins and is intent on taking revenge against Shazam, his evil father and brother, and...the entire world. Shazam is desperate and he transports Billy to his lair and gives him his own powers, causing Billy to grow into a whole-ass adult male (played delightfully by Zachary Levi of Chuck fame) who is not only over 6 feet, swole as hell, and sexy while still being boyish--he also has a ton of super powers, such as super strength and super speed.

After freaking out, Billy asks another kid from the foster home, Freddy (Jack Dylan Glazer) for help. Freddy is the resident nerd who loves comics and so Billy figures he might be able to help him. This leads to a delightful (I'm using that word a lot, aren't I) montage where they test Billy's powers. They also use Billy's grown-up appearance to buy beer at a convenience store.

Eventually, Billy's destiny becomes clear as Thad's powers grow and he realizes he can't run OR hide from Thad who is actively looking to destroy Billy because once Shazam's powers are gone Thad and his seven deadly demons will reign supreme. Thad plays dirty by taking Billy's foster family hostage...but it turns out that the foster kids are a lot stronger and smarter than they appear to be.

I'll hold off on further details since I've already given a thorough plot synopsis here, but suffice it to say that Shazam! is wholesome--but not TOO wholesome--fun. It's dark enough that you might not want to take young kiddos to see it, but it's sweet (and PG-13) enough that it is entirely appropriate for most kids 10 and up. But it's the adults who will have the most fun watching Zachary Levi and Jack Dylan Glazer crack wise and goof around while referencing every movie from Big to Superman.

The only complaint I have about the film is that it doesn't allow Thad Sivana more than one dimension, even though he's the type of villain who absolutely deserves a more meaty emotional backstory. This poor kid was tormented by his own father and brother for his whole life, and when he has the chance to claim power, is denied it because he is not pure of heart. How can a little kid who is abused not be pure of heart? No wonder he grew up evil. This is a Kilmonger-esque backstory if I ever saw one and yet Thad is give about 20% the depth of the Black Panther villain. This seemed like a real wasted opportunity and blindspot in the film.

Grade: B




Sunday, April 7, 2019

Does the Cat Die? (Sorta)

Movies: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary, based on Stephen King's 1983 novel, is pretty dumb. I'll just get that out of the way. I haven't read the book and I haven't seen the 1989 film adaptation, so I have nothing to compare this film to (though I assume the book is much better and scarier), but I can say that as a standalone, Pet Sematary is pretty weak. As John Lithgow says in the film, "sometimes, dead is better." Indeed.

There are spoilers in this review.

The movie follows Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), a doctor who has moved his family from Boston to Ludlow, Maine to "slow down" so he can spend more time with his family: wife Rachel (Amy Semeitz), 9 year old daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), and toddler Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). It doesn't take the Creed family long to realize that there is a creepy-ass pet cemetery (misspelled "sematary" because kids can't spell...nor can pets) where generations of children in Ludlow have buried beloved animals.

But it's not the "sematary" the Creeds need to be wary of, it's what lies beyond...

An elderly man named Jud Crandall (John Lithgow, easily the best part of the film) strikes up a friendship with the Creeds after helping Ellie out when she gets a bee sting. The old man has a soft spot for the little girl (not in a creepy way) since he never had children of his own and his wife has passed away. When Ellie's cat, Church (short for Winston Churchill), is hit by a truck, he shows Louis a different place to bury it...A FREAKIN NATIVE AMERICAN BURIAL GROUND*.

Sure enough, Church comes back...but, different. Meaner. More violent.



Having Church come back has spared Louis the discomfort of telling Ellie her cat died. But at what cost? Reviews I've read called Louis a "putz" who couldn't sack up and tell his kid about death. But the thing that gets me is that the whole Church-zombie thing isn't really Louis' fault--it's Jud's. Jud knew about the special powers of the land and, though Louis didn't ask too many questions, didn't exactly give Louis fair warning.

So, when Ellie herself is hit by a car and dies, Jud can hardly blame Louis for doing exactly what the audience has been waiting for. In a state of crushing grief, Rachel and Gage spend a few days at Rachel's parents--giving Louis the space and time to exhume Ellie, bury her beyond the pet cemetery, and wait for the inevitable to happen. It does. Ellie comes back...but different. Meaner. More violent.

Now, to be fair to Louis, if you were a parent whose kid was killed and you knew a special place that would bring them back to life, you know damn well you'd bury them there, damn the consequences. Unfortunately, the consequences for Louis and the rest of his family are dire when zombie Ellie returns.

The thing about Pet Sematary is that it's about a parent's worst nightmare and yet this particular iteration of the story doesn't really honor the grief and agony at the heart of it all. We see Louis and Rachel mourn Ellie's death for all of 5 minutes before Louis is scheming to bring her back. The film races past the grief to get to the zombie 9-year-old, twirling in her dirty ballet costume and threatening mom with a kitchen knife. I've seen horror movies do grief (Hereditary) and I've seen horror movies do the terror of being a parent (The Babadook) and Pet Sematary just doesn't do any of it justice. I will admit I watched some parts through my fingers, but ultimately the scares weren't enough to justify the lack of an emotional core.

Now, for people who hate seeing animals and children die in movies, you're safe here--they all come back. But, as Jud would say, sometimes dead is better.

Grade: C

*yes, the concept of the spoopy ancient Native American burial ground is hella racist. I have to admit, I loved Jud's shoutout the the Wendigo though. When will they make a movie about the Wendigo!?


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Shadow Self

Movies: Us

Jordan Peele's sophomore film after 2017's groundbreaking Get Out is one of those movies you're either never going to see (because you're scurred...or racist) or you saw on opening weekend.

SO, with that said, I will not hold back on revealing plot points and spoilers in this review. If you are planning to see the film and don't want to be spoiled, please do so and then read the review afterward.

***

The basic plot of Us is revealed in the movie trailer: a family of four, Adelaide and Gabe Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke), and their children, Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) travel to a beach vacation where they encounter a family outside their home. When the family breaks in, they realize that the family looks exactly like them. "It's us" Jason says, in awe. The rest of the trailer doesn't reveal any details other than to suggest bloody carnage, but it's clear that doubles/doppelgangers are a huge part of the plot.

The film actually opens in 1986. Young Adelaide wanders away from her parents at the Santa Cruz boardwalk and enters a fun house with mirrors where she sees a girl who looks exactly like her, yet...isn't. The camera cuts away as young Adelaide's eyes widen in terror, leaving the audience to guess what happened during the encounter.

In present day, adult Adelaide is extremely anxious when Gabe suggests meeting up their friends, the Tylers (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker in plum roles as a hard-drinking, bitchy white couple with mean twin daughters), at the beach in Santa Cruz. Adelaide has noticed weird coincidences adding up since the vacation started that remind her of her haunting experience in 1986 and also make her feel that the other girl is somehow getting closer. Turns out, she's completely right.

That evening, when the other family breaks in, Adelaide's double, also played by Nyong'o and going by the name "Red", tells the family a sad fairy tale about a girl who lives in comfort with plenty to eat and soft toys to play with while another little girl is hungry all the time and only has cold, sharp toys to play with. The story explains that Red and Adelaide are "tethered", but where Adelaide has a wonderful life of love and comfort, Red's life is marked with sorrow and want. Red introduces her husband and children who don't speak and seem to be controlled on some level by Red. After handcuffing Adelaide, Red bids her nonverbal husband, Abraham, to kill Gabe; her sinister daughter, Umbrae, to chase after Zora; and her crawling and masked son, Pluto, to go play with Jason.

Each Wilson family member gets a showdown with their doppelganger and all of them manage to escape relatively unscathed (Gabe's showdown with Abraham on a boat is both terrifying and funny in turn). Meanwhile, the Tylers are being massacred by their own doubles across town. This is the part where I as a viewer was like "oooh, there's a whole other level to this shit". The trailer held back on revealing that it wasn't just the Wilson family that have doubles and when the Tethered Tylers show up, you start to wonder what's *really* going on.



After the Wilsons show up at the Tylers and have to kill their doubles (something something people of color being burdened with white people's troubles in addition to their own? Yep.) they turn on the TV to find out that this is happening all over the United States: people in red jumpsuits with golden scissors are coming out of sewers and stabbing people and then joining hands to form a human chain.

Adelaide seems to be the most in tune with what is happening--she points out that they can't hide from their Tethered because the whole point of being, um, tethered is that their doubles know how to find them. Her idea is to drive down the coast to Mexico, which makes sense given that this invasion seems to be an American phenomenon (more on this later).

The film climaxes with Red kidnapping Jason and going back to the old fun house, leading Adelaide to follow her and discover an underground network of tunnels and bunkers where all these Tethereds have been living. Red, during her final showdown with Adelaide explains that the Tethered are clones, but in body only. Scientists were able to clone a body, but not a soul, meaning that everyone above ground was inadvertently puppeting a Tethered below ground. The scientists abandoned the project, leaving the clones to bumble around below the surface of the United States, until one of them--Red, naturally--became the leader of the others and planned her spectacular revenge. She is the only Tethered who can talk and who seems able to think for herself. Gathering inspiration from the failed Hands Across America campaign from 1986, she leads the Tethered to stage an uprising--the "Untethering"--against the humans living above ground. She explains all this before Adelaide jabs a fire poker into her chest and kills her. Adelaide then finds Jason and assures him the nightmare is finally over...

...ok, but wait a second. How would Red know about Hands Across America? And why is she the *only* Tethered who can talk? In the final moments of the movie, we see Adelaide's entire flashback to the 1986 incident in the fun house--turns out the woman we thought was the "real" Adelaide throughout the whole movie was, in fact, a Tethered and Red is the "real" Adelaide. Of course, this makes us go back and replay every moment of the movie looking for clues and makes us rethink Red as the villain.

But the bigger question beyond Red/Adelaide is who the real "monsters" are--the Tethered or their above ground counterparts? Or neither? Or both? Peele has said multiple times that, unlike Get Out, Us is not about race. While some articles have argued that Us is about the "double consciousness" that people of color in the United States experience, as described by W.E.B. Dubois, I also think the film is about privilege--specifically how privilege plays out in the United States.

For one thing, the sad fairy tale Red tells about the two little girls is a tale of privilege: in order for one girl to have delicious food, soft toys, and a loving family, another little girl has to go without. Every time above ground Adelaide experienced something wonderful, underground Red experienced pain and suffering. And while privilege and access to resources and love is not a zero-sum game, the message that in order for there to be "haves" there have to be "have nots" is clear.

Also, take into account the lives of the Tethered: they live underground and don't get to see the sun; they can't talk or read and have no one to teach them; they live off of raw rabbit meat since it is the most convenient food source. They shuffle around like mental patients in a Victorian asylum, literal shadows of their above ground counterparts who are having fun and enjoying life.

Finally, consider that when the Wilson family asks the Tethered family who they are, Red answers "We're Americans." Her obsession with Hands Across America, one of the last ties to her life before she was forcibly swapped and her real Tethered took over her life above ground, is interesting because it was a patriotic campaign to raise money for homelessness and hunger in the United States that memorably didn't do very well--the goal was to raise $50 million and only $15 million was raised. It's an example of a token, feel-good effort to help vulnerable people that ultimately didn't pan out since our systemic institutions of inequality are too deeply entrenched to be fixed with people joining hands.

Even the title of the film, Us, is an abbreviation for "United States".

So, clearly Peele is sending a message about the hypocrisy of Americans and our willingness to live our lives on the backs of less fortunate people. He says the film is not about race specifically, but of course race and privilege are intimately entwined. We are a country, after all, built on the back-breaking labor of slaves and, once slavery was abolished, on the back-breaking labor of the less privileged so that a precious few many secure their place at the top of the totem poll. And if you want to blow the picture up to a larger scale, we as a country--even the poorest among us--enjoy pleasures and conveniences in life only made possible through the near-slave labor of many people in other countries where the wealth gap is ever more extreme. 

Us is about separation and division, as symbolized by those golden scissors: we are separated unto ourselves; we are separated unto our fellow countrymen; we are separated as a country unto our fellow humans. In any given situation, we might be our "real" selves--above ground, privileged, the "haves", or we might be the Tethered, suffering so that others may have a little more.

Grade: A-



Monday, March 25, 2019

Woman of a Certain Age

Movies: Gloria Bell

It's telling that Sebastian Leilo's Gloria Bell has a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, according the to critics, but only a 47% rating according to audience members. Why the discrepancy? I believe it's because the previews for Gloria Bell advertise a slightly different type of story than what you experience during the actual movie. The previews tell a story of a radiant, middle-aged woman (Julianne Moore, a revelation of humanity in this film), Gloria, who falls for a kind, lonely man, Arnold (John Turturro, wonderful as always). The actual movie depicts a story slightly more complicated, but nonetheless absolutely beautiful and deeply empathetic.

Leilo, who has quickly become one of my favorite directors, based this film on his own 2013 film, Gloria, which basically is the same plot but set in Chile (Leilo's country of origin). In this Americanized update, Gloria Bell is a stunning woman in her 50s who is divorced with two grown kids (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius) and a pretty fulfilling life without a partner. She does well at her job at an insurance company, takes "laughing yoga" classes where groups of women engage in laughter exercises, and goes out to a disco that caters to middle-aged men and women. Gloria is the woman I aspire to be at that age: grounded, kind, strong, and quirky enough to engage in activities that keep life fun and interesting.

When she meets Arnold at the disco, they hit it off immediately, making love the first night they meet. Arnold is more recently divorced and seems glued to his constantly-ringing phone. But he also owns a paintball park and teaches Gloria to shoot a paintball gun and then reads Spanish poetry to her. He's fun and cute (he's John Turturro giving serious DILF vibes) even if he is a bit quiet and depressed.

*** Spoilers***



But the red flags start flying when Gloria brings Arnold to her son's birthday party and he reveals the level of dependency his ex-wife and adult daughters have on him. They don't work, they emotionally abuse him, and he's still very tied to them in an unhealthy way. Additionally, Arnold can't deal with meeting Gloria's ex-husband (Brad Garrett in an excellent small role), who is a bit of a sad sack himself, but very vocal about how much he and Gloria were in love back in the old days. Without telling anyone, Arnold leaves the party. Gloria is worried, then humiliated, then angry. But Arnold desperately tries to get a second chance, only to blow it a second time in a hugely spectacular way.

Despite these blows, Gloria never loses her sense of dignity and humor. Even when she's falling down drunk after a massive disappointment, you know that this is an adventure for her, not a defeat. And you know that the only one who deserves to feel embarrassed is Arnold who throws away an amazing woman to be at the beck and call of his emotionally destructive ex and wretched daughters.

***end spoilers***

What makes Gloria Bell so different from all those other "women of a certain age" films like It's Complicated and Something's Gotta Give is that this film is so much more true to life, and yet not a downer even when things get rough for the characters. It hits the sweet spot between "real" and "hopeful". Gloria LOVES dancing, and even when she's down on her luck, music is something she can always turn to. The film may be a bit "Hollywood" in the sense that Moore honestly has the body of a 30 year old (you see a lot of her hot bod in this movie), but otherwise is one of the least Hollywood depictions of middle-aged love and life I've seen. It revels the beauty to be found in the small things, like taking a yoga class or drinking a cold martini or hearing "Gloria" by Laura Branigan on the radio.

I've heard people lament aging not only because of the physical and health aspects of getting older, but also because once you've had X number of experiences, life stops being fresh and interesting. I personally feel that life is as exciting as we choose to make it--there's no rule that says we can't try new things or seek pleasure as we age. There's no rule that says we can't find joy in the mundane. There's no rule that says we can't have sex and create new friendships and romances as we age. Realistically, many people are single in middle-age, especially these days. Divorce numbers are down, but they're still high. So my question to you, reader is this: if you end up "alone" in your 40s, 50s, or older, what are you going to do? Personally, I hope I "go down dancing" like Gloria Bell says she wants to. Because I know that age really is just a mindset and that life has the potential to be fun, joyous, and meaningful until the end.

Grade: A

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Danse Macabre

Movies: Climax

Director Gaspar Noe is infamous among movie buffs for his violent, decadent films. He is probably most well-known for directing the film Irreversible which features a 9-minute, extremely realistic rape scene. I have not seen Irreversible and though I am curious, I gotta say that I'll probably never be in the mood to watch graphic depictions of assault.

Climax is the first Noe film I've seen and it has been called his most "accessible" film by movie critics. Even so, it is a doozy. I saw the film alone in a theatre with maybe 10 other audience members, four of whom walked out (one guy said "fuck that!" as he left, as if anyone cared about his opinion).

The film follows a troupe of French dancers who have a rehearsal in what appears to be a church or school basement. After the rehearsal, which is filmed in real time and is visually stunning to watch (the entire cast, with the exception of actress Sophia Boutella, are professional dancers), the dancers cut loose, drink, eat, and chat with one another. But all of a sudden, everyone simultaneously begins to feel weird...they quickly realize that someone has spiked their sangria with LSD or some other hallucinogenic drug.

From that moment, the party descends into a nightmare of paranoia, violence, questionably coercive sexual hookups, and absolute mayhem. Noe uses the camera to disorient the viewer, turning it upside down so it looks like the floor is on the ceiling, and following the dancers and they movie throughout the building, which is dimly lit in gaudy, fluorescent red and green lights.

If you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now!



I will give Climax this: it is visually stunning. The dance sequences, the camera work, and the lighting all add up to an intoxicating, immersive experience. Some might find it nausea-inducing, but I really dug it. The use of dancers instead of actors was a good choice as well, since actual dance sequences take up at least 20-30 minutes of the entire film (and they are truly amazing to watch). It also gives the film a lot of diversity in terms of race, sexual orientation, and gender expression which is really cool.

That said, I understand why some people walked out. Climax quickly becomes unnecessarily cruel. When the discovery of the spiked sangria first happens, one character who refused alcohol earlier because he doesn't drink is confronted and locked outside of the building in the snowy winter weather. Another character who wasn't drinking is confronted and when she reveals she's not drinking because she is pregnant, another female dancer calls her a liar and proceeds to knee her in the stomach and then kick her stomach when she falls down. As she begs for help, the other dancers gather around and scream at her to kill herself.

If you think that's bad, just wait until one of the young son of another dancer, probably 7 years old, who was watching the rehearsal sneaks out of his bed and is caught drinking the sangria. Mom, high as balls, locks him in the electrical closet, telling him not to touch the electric wires. Mom promptly loses the key to the closet and, of course, the power goes out and the dancers yell "Hahaha! Tito's fried" Tito's mom then commits suicide. Funnnnnnnn.

Still with me? There's also a scene where a male dancer makes out with his biological sister even though she tells him to stop and runs away crying while he chases her. There's another lesbian make-out that is, if not coercive, definitely not enthusiastically consensual.

There's also screaming (so, so much screaming), a dancer pissing themselves on the dance floor, a fistfight, and more! All of this debauchery and ruthlessness adds up to one big "why?" I'm fine with movie violence and cruelty if it serves even the smallest purpose, but Noe's thesis here appears to be "drugs are bad, mmmmkay?" And I have to wonder, does LSD actually cause this much of a freak-out? I mean, I guess if it's ingested in large doses and everyone else is taking it too it could lead to some crazy hallucinations, but you would think that people who have enough sense to either 1) call the police/an ambulance or 2) just go to their rooms and lock the door until they're sober again.

And the cherry on top of the bizarre sundae? You find out who spiked the sangria at the end when the person uses LSD eyedrops from a box that says "LSD" on it in big, black letters. Now, I'm not much of a drug user myself, so maybe I'm naive, but I don't think LSD comes in a box labeled "LSD". Maybe in France?

Overall, I'd give Climax an "A" for visuals, a "C-" for plot and a "B-" overall.

Grade: B-