The Movie Waffler New Release Review - HIGH LIFE | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - HIGH LIFE

high life review
Tensions rise between a group of convicts floating through space.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Claire Denis

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, AndrΓ© Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek

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Acclaimed French filmmaker Claire Denis (Trouble Every Day; 35 Shots of Rum) makes her English language debut with High Life, a sci-fi thriller headlined by Robert Pattinson, who has commendably committed his post-Twilight career to shining a light on some of the most interesting of today's auteurs. Yet while Denis may be working with a world famous actor in a genre known for its commercial appeal, any worries that she may have compromised her unique vision are dispensed within minutes of this often puzzling tone poem.


high life review


Pattinson plays Monte, one of a group of prisoners thrown together in a spaceship and sent off on a mission to venture into a black hole in search of a rumoured energy source. Another duty of the convicts is to serve as guinea pigs for the diabolical Dibs (Juliette Binoche), a scientist obsessed with artificial insemination, collecting space spunk left behind in 'The Box', a terrifying room where the prisoners are pounded by Giger-esque sex toys. The celibate Monte, however, refuses to engage in the dubious pleasures of The Box, drawing the ire of Dibs, who grows increasingly obsessed with obtaining his seed.

High Life plays like a curious blend of the slowburning sci-fi dramas of Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris; Stalker) and the low budget Alien knockoffs that peppered grindhouses in the wake of Ridley Scott's hit, and which added copious sex and violence to the formula (Galaxy of Terror; Inseminoid). A vegetable garden tended by Monte and chilled out con Tcherny (AndrΓ© Benjamin) recalls Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running, while the notion of boredom driving space explorers nuts hints at John Carpenter's Dark Star, minus the laughs.


high life review


Denis emphasises the contrast between the prisoners' intergalactic incarceration and their lives on Earth by filming the former on digital and the latter, seen in flashbacks, on 16mm film, the sterility of the former jarring with the grain and texture - the life - of the former. The images of Earth - all rickety trains, power stations and dogs exploring muggy outdoor scenes with rain dripping from leaves - summon the aesthetic of Tarkovsky in a way few imitators have managed. Things take a Kubrickian turn when the black hole makes its appearance. Thanks to her collaboration with physicist AurΓ©lien Barrau, Denis' representation of a black hole is remarkably close to the real life image scientists recently presented us with. Designed by installation artist Olafur Eliasson, the floating space prison has a real sense of a living space, Denis' camera paying attention to details like how clean water is generated.

Such verisimilitude is High Life's greatest strength, imbuing a superficial plot with a sense that we're watching the lives of real people here, and their dead-eyed interactions with each other and their environment have a hypnotic quality. There are however too many moments where the spell is broken by clunky dialogue that too often serves merely to ensure the viewer is caught up with the objectives of the assembled characters. High Life's characters rarely speak, but when they do you're left feeling that something has been lost in translation, as the script is clearly the product of a filmmaker who speaks English as a foreign language.


high life review


High Life has been alternately acclaimed as a profound study of humanity and a shallow slice of stellar sleaze. It's probably somewhere in between, but frankly it's equally alluring when it veers closer to the latter description than the former. Science fiction for adults is rarely seen on this technical level, and with its confounding themes and focus on bodily fluids, Denis' film is 'Adult Sci-Fi' in every sense of the term.

High Life is in UK/ROI cinemas May 10th.


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