Gaspar Noé, the bad boy of European art house and the man responsible for the galvanizing avant-garde hit Irreversible returns to feature length film making this year after a brief sojourn which saw him contributing shorts for collaborative projects such as Derestricted (an unsuccessful exploration of the line between art and pornography) and 8. Living up to his reputation for nausea-inducing cinematography and taboo subject matter, Enter The Void strives for the same shock value, but ends up being rather sterile in its eagerness to wow the audience into submission.
The minimal story, set in the seedy belly of a futuristic red light district in Tokyo, concerns two Western siblings whose tragic past refuses to let them live happily in the present, opening the door to a world of sex and drugs that will eventually lead them to their respective downfalls. Oscar is on the verge of becoming a fully fledged junkie and invites his sister Lucy, with whom he shares an almost incestuous intimacy, to join him in Japan in a bid to help combat his loneliness. Both are haunted by their parents fatal car accident which is seen through multiple visceral flashbacks, each successive thud more deafening than the last. Once Oscar is shot dead by the police following a drug deal gone disastrously wrong, the camera maintains his point of view to mirror the discussions of reincarnation and The Tibetan Book Of The Dead which immediately precede his untimely demise. What may sound like a philosophical experiment is actually an excuse for Noé to gain access to every orifice and sordid perspective available to him which, in keeping with the traditions of exploitation cinema, is at once both intellectually vacuous but undeniably thrilling.
Unconcerned with narrative, Enter The Void is an exercise in atmosphere and ‘feeling’ – in the words of Susan Sontag, an exploration of the ‘erotics of art’. Indeed, the opening drug-induced hallucinations, with their tentacles and feelers swirling in hypnotic concentric patterns, are incredibly sensual even if they do resemble a William Morris designed screen-saver. Rather than question a character’s motivation, we’re meant to feel their sense of dread, to revel in our own sense of dislocation as the relentlessly disorientating camera work turns yet another corner, to have our retinas burnt by the vibrant, piercing clarity of its colour palette and be lulled by the ghoulish soundscapes into a dreamlike state before being confronted with a vivid nightmare.
For a period of the film Noé’s techniques are highly effective, layering every scene with an additonal dash of menace and unease which is commendable if only for its superficial qualities. Unfortunately, weighed down by its running time, the result is frankly exhausting. By the time an erect penis is seen thrusting to the point of ejaculation from the perspective of a vaginal wall it is likely your attention will have begun to wane if it hasn’t petered out entirely already. It’s frustrating that Noé has such contempt for character and story arcs because his visual and acoustic style, married with more mainstream cinematic traditions, could produce something electrifying. As it stands, Enter The Void is merely an academic exercise which fails to rise above its concept.