If 2001: A Space Odyssey had more of a horror aspect and were to get slapped with an R rating, it might look something like Claire Denis’s High Life, one of the most puzzling and intriguing films to be released in 2019. From the opening shot, the viewer is left astonished by Yorick Le Saux’s beautiful cinematography. A shot of nature in an intergalactic atmosphere has never looked so stunning, and Le Saux doesn’t let up once the story focuses on the people within the ship in which the film takes place. It’s a beautiful and terrifying exploration of how a mission can go horribly awry when people with bad intentions are on the ship.
Told in a non-linear fashion, High Life focuses on a group of convicts being used as test subjects for space travel and the possible discovery of a black hole. With the knowledge that they won’t return, and the uncertainty of the mission, the crew becomes restless and some unleash anger and frustration on each other, and also attempt or commit some rather heinous acts. It’s a sci-fi film for those who like the genre to focus more on human nature and realism as opposed to creatures and epic battles.
At the center of the film is Monte (Robert Pattinson), whom we see in the beginning with a little baby girl. A single parent aboard an empty vessel, Monte is still in charge of daily reports for consistent oxygen levels and maintaining the ship when necessary. It’s during the moments of downtime in which Monte interacts with his daughter that truly sell the bond they have. These scenes give Pattinson the time to express his chops and he truly excels when moments such as singing or reading to Willow occur. Even the struggles a new, single father faces, such as trying to calm a crying baby, are captured perfectly with Pattinson’s emotional range.
Throughout the film, Denis cuts back and forth to when the ship was occupied by people other than Monte and before he became a parent. The convicts are trapped inside a ship for the rest of their lives, but, unlike prison, they are given more freedom to roam and also have fewer rules by which they must abide. The person in charge of them is Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), who is also conducting an experiment on whether or not human reproduction can occur in space. But she has a much darker side to her, too, and has experiments of her own on which she’s working. It’s a treat to watch her and her evil ways.
There are a lot of layers in High Life that are best to uncover while watching the movie instead of simply reading about it. Going into the film with some knowledge of the plot, I found myself blown away by what Denis was able to accomplish. It’s a sci-fi film that takes a lot of risks, which is hard to come across these days. At the same time, one could consider it a horror film, except the horror is more about people and how they will lash out once they hit a certain point.
The Blu-ray for High Life comes presented in a 1080p, 16x9 widescreen format with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Its cinematography alone made me wish I saw this on the big screen, but watching it at home on a flat-screen television worked just as well. The audio track is a 5.1 DTS track and perfectly captures Stuart A. Staples’s haunting score. The special features consist of two, behind-the-scenes clips. One is “Audacious, Passionate, and Dangerous: Making High Life,” in which the cast and crew are interviewed about the film. One interesting note in this feature is that Denis didn’t have a completed script when she started filming the movie. The other feature is “Visualizing the Abyss: The Look of High Life,” which talks about the film’s scenery.
High Life is sure to polarize people, but it’s rewarding for those looking for a challenging and daring sci-fi film. Denis doesn’t try to make a loud, bombastic epic here that makes one question some deep theories. Instead, she creates something with less than $10 million that is haunting and intriguing, and will still leave the viewer mind-boggled. It’s a trip worth taking, that’s for sure.