High Life Review

A beauty of nature and a passionate view of the landscape is brought to life in the opening crawl of High Life, which rides the high of life and nature with succulent colouring and a slight, eerie feel. Something is off, but it is not the vegetation in the grounds of a garden stuck in a polished and manic-looking space station. It is when Claire Denis pushes the scope of her camera around the twists of the space station that her science-fiction horror comes to life. It is not the usual aliens or bumps in the night that these characters have to worry about but the sanity of themselves and each other. Prisoners shuffling around the space station trying to extract impossibilities from a bleak black hole, it makes High Life infectiously interesting but also a delight when the horror starts to take hold.

Most of that is thanks to Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche. Their leading performances as Monte and Dibs are exciting and intense not just because they are stalwart artists but the nonlinear structure of the narrative keeps their chemistry with one another fresh and discomforting. It is the image of trust negated by the murderous crimes that bring Dibs (Binoche) out as a tremendously frightful character. Denis has overlooked the process of putting prisoners onto a spaceship, but at least she wonders whether a breakdown of power between murderers and celibates is going to lead to some disastrous consequences. Naturally, it does. Most of the great scenes within High Life are reminiscent of this science-fiction or that bit of philosophical undertone. It is hard to escape the references to this or that project, but High Life does have the angle of nonlinear structure and a fascinating cast to pull it away from those comparisons.

Not fully, but enough to make an audience believe they are receiving a unique experience. It is neither plagiarism nor prophetic for the unsettling colour palette or the breakdown in order of the science fiction genre. They are two namesakes to that class and High Life does exceptionally well to manage them and turn them into something unique. It marks these moments as their own despite how frequent and relevant to pop culture and the works before it has made the fight for survival and the slow trickle of death aboard a doomed space shuttle. Denis has more than enough to make the overindulgence of these characters and overcrowded genre her own.

Methodical and meditative with a grand use of colour and style, High Life is dependent on audiences taking in the quiet and reflecting on it in their own time. Denis offers plenty of time for a viewer to do so. It is a barrage of violence and thought but peters out at times. The nonlinear structure is a blessing and a curse for High Life. So much of the narrative is skewered by implications that make sense further down the line thanks to this style, but the narrative can falter as well. That is a refreshing gamble to take and Denis manages it with frenetically driven characters and a keen eye for enveloping the high points of science fiction horror.

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