Cinematic Releases: Interstellar Overdrive: High Life (2018) - Reviewed

The antithesis to Interstellar; or, if you'd like, a Solaris for this century.

High Life, the latest work from acclaimed French director Claire Denis, is something that almost shouldn't come from the 73 year old French auteur, yet here we are. Its mere existence is a miracle in and of itself, and to say that its presentation is beyond magnificent and astounding would be to understate its greatness to the nth degree.

Its tale is told unconventionally, drifting between its different events and time periods- back and forth between past, present, and future to intricately yet delicately weave a tale of human depravity and the most basic primal sense of survival when people are stripped down to nothing. The science is a backseat driver to its overarching personal plot- while its effects are a marvel to behold in its breathtaking ship design and the overall breadth of its space setting, the main story is never short of its moments of claustrophobia. The best films set in space take full advantage of the tight corridors that press its characters together and force them into uncomfortable situations: High Life does this and then some, going far above and beyond some of the most despicable moments between these hardened criminals.

Robert Pattinson once again proves his mettle in the art with a muted yet compelling performance that no one could have expected to come from him a decade ago. He's worked with the likes of Cronenberg and the Safdie Brothers, and now finds himself in the hands of one of the most prolific directors of modern French cinema in her first English-language feature, surprisingly. Supported by a stellar cast including Juliette Binoche and Mia Goth, Denis takes us on a spellbinding journey through the torturous and violent lives these prisoners and their captors lead on their supposed respite from penalty. Under the guise that they will escape death row, these inmates embark on a seemingly endless journey, hurtling through space as they struggle to survive, evidently forced to meet daily requirements to be allotted their basic necessities to live.

The real brunt of this evisceration of human decency comes through its diabolical underlying scheme proposed through its villainous scientist: a sadistic provocateur obsessed with reproducing in space, for one reason or another. There shouldn't be any solitary reason to like any of these characters aside from Pattinson and the child- we are never really given thought or reason as to why we should- and to that end it may be one of the most haunting pieces of criminalism under the guise of science fiction since Aleksei German's Hard to be a God. I would hate to spoil much of the plot herein, but this is honestly likely one of the most demanding and cerebral sci-fi films in years- one that will confound some and astound others, already met with criticism from claims of pretension and ambiguity. But ambiguity is something that I personally love to see in films: it challenges the mind and makes the viewer think and work for the payoff that's to come so that the ending, when finally understood, can be appreciated that much more.

It's incredible to think that High Life has been in Denis' mind for the better part of fifteen years leading up to her finally tackling the project. She has gone on record stating that she always envisioned it as an English-language film, and Pattinson himself persisted throughout the years in being a part of the film, much to its benefit. He's quickly becoming one of my favorite working actors- redeemed from a life of teenage romance and finally finding his place in some real roles with which he can finally use the full potential of his capabilities. Perhaps it was for the best that it took so long for Denis' vision to finally come to fruition- switching between the likes of Vincent Gallo (of all people) and Philip Seymour Hoffman in keeping the ideal star in mind for her film's lead. The final product is an astounding work of genius, to say the least, and one that deserves the utmost respect as a science fiction masterpiece- toeing the line between sci-fi and horror that will have you stewing over its ideals and presentations days after its end.

-Wes Ball