High Life (2019) [a film review by Frank Ochieng].

Science Fiction space-related spectacles are wondrous by nature given the broad, compelling scope of its imaginative sense of optical illusion and technical wonderment. Aesthetically, a vibrant SF production can literally wipe away any other shortcomings that could potentially hamper the opulent visual experience.

However, the most challenging SF space vehicles can incorporate the realm of humanity’s psyche into its thought-provoking orbit. After all, it is not asking too much to absorb the consciousness of vast SF odysseys from the standpoint of human soul-searching. Clearly, grand galaxy fantasies should stimulate beyond the expected ecstasy of boisterous bells and whistles.

Co-writer/director Claire Denis’s hypnotic and probing arthouse SF space adventure ‘High Life’ is a refreshingly different kind of out-of-this-world suspense piece whose reflective tension is fueled in its metaphysical mileage. Indeed, ‘High Life’ is daringly contemplative in its adventurous skin. This is French filmmaker Denis’ (‘Beau Trevail’, ‘Trouble Every Day’) English-language debut film and the auteur makes an eye-popping impression with this philosophical SF exposition that investigates a distinctive passage of the mind and soul. It certainly does not hurt in witnessing cinematographer Yorick Le Saux’s dynamic camera capturing the vibrant sheen of Denis’s solar landscape.

‘High Life’ headliner Robert Pattinson has come a long way artistically in his fantasy feature preferences since his guilty pleasure days of the ‘Twilight’ phenomenon that had mobs of fangirls going berserk over his on-screen romantic proclivities. Pattinson plays Monte, one of several death row inmates given an opportunity to survive upon the stipulation that he and his cohorts are shot into the black hole via an experimental scientific mission.

During the expedition, we discover the ritualistic process of fertilisation testing being conducted by the spaceship’s Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche). Interestingly, Dr. Dibs and the space-traveling prisoners have one common denominator that unite them: they all have done their fair share of killing. In any event, Dr. Dibs, harbouring a criminal past of her own, is responsible for collecting the fertility deposits from the imprisoned donors as they ‘squeeze it out‘.

Soon, the circumstances concerning the ‘survival of the fittest’ mode only holds true for Monte and his daughter Willow (Scarlett Lindsey/Jessie Ross) as the rest of the human fertile guinea pigs have vanished. So now the abandoned Monte and Willow must endure an uncertain destination to the unknown elements of the cosmos aboard a spaceship programmed to simply operate in continued flight.

As the Lone Wolf drifting aimlessly into space with the critical role of fatherhood looming Monte must contend with his haunting reality. The non-existence of humanity to assimilate in is a tough pill to swallow for the single-fathered space explorer to digest with forethought. Saddled in claustrophobic darkness and despair, Monte must navigate his thoughts accordingly.

For Robert Pattinson’s prisoner-astronaut Monte an uncertain flight is his plight in Claire Denis’s self-examining sci-fi spectacle HIGH LIFE

Denis’s foray into penetrating SF mysteriousness of one trapped man’s mindset in outer space is creatively inspired. Sure, ‘High Life’ does not totally set itself apart from other SF space yarns detailing an individual’s sense of isolation away from hints of mankind. Plus, Denis does not deviate from the actual recipe of concocting a typical SF thriller in all its special effects exuberance.

Still, ‘High Life’ can be credited with its ambitious awestruck reach into the revolving doors of human instincts involving the topical complexities of human reproduction, sacrifice, redemption and self-discovery. The atmospheric horror coupled with a dished hormonal undercurrent renders Denis’ cosmos caper an unusual spiritual travelogue worthy of its journey into moral decay.

Pattinson breaks new ground here while projecting his character Monte as a self-examining wanderer trying to evaluate his tortured livelihood on and away from Earth’s confines. It is a textured performance for the actor that has taken on some cinematic risks since his aforementioned ‘Twilight’ heyday.

Oscar/BAFTA award-winning Binoche is chilling as the mature sperm-pushing siren Dr. Dibs. As the menacing medical maiden, Binoche is able to hold her own as a questionable individual of substance…someone whose so-called fertilisation expertise still does not put her on a higher ethical plateau no more than the conflicted inmates she instructs to masturbate on a whim for scientific awareness.

Both Andre Benjamin and Mia Goth add decent supporting turns as Monte’s fellow death row cohorts. Benjamin’s garden-tending pal Tchemy and Goth’s crazed and inseminated Boyse contribute the additional surrealism to this flight-plight fable beyond the stars.

In short, ‘High Life’ is one of the more daring and distinctive SF space-dwelling showcases one will view enthusiastically with strange appreciation and curiosity.

High Life

Studio: A24

1 hr. 50 mins.

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek, Lars Eidinger, Scarlett Lindsey, Jessie Ross and Gloria Obianyo

Directed by: Claire Denis

Written by: Claire Denis, Geoff Cox and Jean-Pol Fargeau

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/Action & Adventure/Art House

Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)

(c) Frank Ochieng (2019)




Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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