Ambitious and technically dazzling, the latest film from director Gaspar Noé is also a disjointed exploration of life after death.
Since attracting controversy and acclaim with Irreversible (2002), Noe has returned to similarly grandiose themes and, like his previous film, presented them within a contemporary urban world.
Set in contemporary Tokyo, Enter The Void focuses on a young American drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown), his sister (Paz de la Huerta), and the various people he comes across whilst peddling his wares.
As this spectral journey progresses, we also get flashbacks of Oscar’s childhood and numerous other meditations on his life and ultimate death.
What makes the film particularly striking from is that we see much of it through the eyes of the protagonist, a conceit which is sustained with consummate technical skill by Noé and his crew.
Much of the film is a master class in cinematography, visual effects and editing, to the point where it could become a case study in film schools for those curious as to how various sequences were executed.
However, the stylistic virtuosity is matched by a grimy setting: a dank, urban underbelly filled with dirty toilets, strip clubs and all manner of shifty people doing dodgy things.
Although likely to turn off some viewers, as a depiction of that world it is convincing, despite all the visual trickery used to present it.
The performances are solid: Brown makes for a sympathetic protagonist, with a performance heavily reliant on his voice work, whilst del la Huerta portrays the emotional and physical demands of her role with considerable courage.
The wild, freeform way in which Noé explores death itself as some kind of existential, hallucinogenic trip is hugely ambitious, even if it doesn’t always work.
Clumsy references to The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the loose nature of the narrative means that after about an hour the film starts to splutter and fracture.
But despite this, long stretches of the film are a remarkable assault on the senses.
Filled with strobe lighting effects, hypnotic sounds and even sequences set inside the human body, it is arresting, hallucinatory and disturbing, sometimes all at once.
This is precisely the kind of film that should be experienced in the cinema for the full effect and some sequences linger long after the end – one recurring scene was so effectively shot and edited, it jolted me out of my seat more than once.
Some will dismiss the ideas presented in the film as drug-fuelled pretension, but as a visual representation of what could happen when we die it is a fascinating and bold exploration of what is still a taboo subject in Western culture.
Compared to how many mainstream films feature death as something to be laughed at or perversely enjoyed, especially modern horror franchises, this makes the film all the more unusual.
Enter the Void has had a troubled journey to the screen with various cuts shown to different festivals over the last year, suggesting even Noé might have got lost inside the material.
A more definitive director’s cut might surface in the future, but it is rare for any modern filmmaker to attempt this kind of material, one of dazzling technical skill and intense philosophical ambition.
It might not always work, but the finished film is unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory. For that, at least, it deserves considerable credit.
Enter the Void is out at selected UK cinemas on Friday 24th September