Gaspar Noé's Irreversible is an amazing and profoundly disturbing experience, not just because it depicts a landscape of sick and lurid and evil things, but because it has the audacity -- and demonic skill -- to make you feel as if those things were happening, live, right in front of your eyes. Early on, the camera whips around in a disorienting frenzy, descending into the lavalike inferno of a gay sex club, where the somber orgiastic assault climaxes with a head-bashing murder that may be the most gruesomely terrifying event I've ever witnessed in a movie. What creeps under your skin is the ghastly suggestion that we're watching the ultimate act of sadomasochism -- i.e., that the murder victim enjoyed it.
Noé is like Kubrick crossed with de Sade in the age of underground vérité porn; he wants to scare the living hell out of us. Yet is he a moralist as well? ''Irreversible'' turns out to be a tale of rape and revenge told in reverse order, and the sexual violation, staged in a single, excruciating nine-minute take (Monica Bellucci's performance is, quite simply, heroic), is a catharsis of ugly truth that blots away the grimy memory of every exploitation film you've ever seen. After a while, a didactic overdeliberateness seeps into Noé's design, but there's no doubt that he's a new kind of dark film wizard: a poet of apocalyptic shock.