In-your-face French director Gaspar Noé has a new film, featuring all the drug-induced thrills, messy mental spills and sexually explicit frills that we’ve come to expect from the demagogic maverick who made that notorious rape-revenge film, Irréversible. Enter the Void is a metaphysical trip through a kaleidoscope of altered states that is so neon-lit it hurts; the sado-stroboscopic nightmare-porn aesthetic wears out your eyes. Cinematically accomplished and conceptually audacious as it may be, Peter Brunette hit the nail on the head when he dubbed it “virtually unwatchable”.
The swooping and soaring camera work takes a POV perspective from the protagonist Oscar’s (Nathaniel Brown) cranium, allowing us to stumble through a 137-minute acid trip into his childhood, his death, his (negligible) rebirth, and the seamier side of Tokyo’s nightlife. The fact that Oscar is deceased for almost the entire duration of his narration is metaphorically reinforced by his drug of choice, DMT, allegedly the chemical the brain produces when you die. Oscar’s world is a lurid, oversexed, hallucinatory wonderland; the camera lens lurches off conscious limits into feverish Freudian pedantries.
While each frame is crafted with genuine technical skill, Enter the Void is deliberately disorientating, self-consciously controversial, and agonizingly anguished. Hipsters will love this film – expect to hear the words cult-classic, psychedelic and visionary bandied around – being, as it is, a tour de force of imaginative nihilism. Noé pulls out a ringside seat to a psychosomatic version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and places you firmly in the seat of cinematic voyeur. It’s impossible not to feel either titillated or traumatised by the graphic scenes of subconscious desire, incestuous squalor, and sexual surrender, so in terms of trouble-mongering a reaction out of his viewer, Noé indubitably succeeds. But the problem with hysterical excess is that it is indeed excessive, and harrowing scenes of horror tend to lose their impact if they are repeated over and over again.
Noé has said that “to make a good melodrama you need sperm, blood and tears,” but Enter the Void fails to really be much more than a pitch-quote for primal therapy.
Enter the Void is now available on DVD.