Like superstar actors and directors, many modern-day production companies have built a following from the quality of the work they create. An example of this is A24, with their creator driven approach. In recent years, they have released movies such as Heriditary and Moonlight, garnering much praise from the independent film crowd. Co-written and directed by Claire Denis, High Life is a release that many have been anticipating. While being a visceral science-fiction experience, this is a movie that unfortunately is not able to tell the story its provocative imagery deserves.
This film tells the story of Monte, a member of a dangerous space mission that must attempt to survive while taking care of an infant baby. Robert Pattinson plays the aforementioned lead with Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth and André 3000 as supporting actors.
Deliberate in its pace and purposeful in the delivery of moments clearly intended to shock, this is a movie that wants to hold a mirror up to the ugly side of humankind. It is happy to make us feel uneasy as it sets the mood for the artful journey ahead. It is in this sense that the film is most successful. There are several scenes that will evoke an emotional response from its viewers, especially alongside the strong performance by Pattinson. Many of these sequences may even seem gratuitous at first, doing exactly what the filmmaker wants to do. Built on the strong foundation of these moments, the movie is sadly weakened by the roads we take to reach them.
It is not uncommon for independent cinema to follow an approach that relies on visuals, leaving much to interpretation. With this in mind, High Life could easily have been a more metaphorically designed film. However, we are instead presented with sections that act only as unneeded exposition to understand the events better. It sets these ideas up but fails to capitalise on them as the rest of the movie is deliberately obtuse in its progression. This issue is compounded by the fact that the characters we follow are veiled with mystery for the rest of the picture. We learn about the space mission’s purpose and who these people are but do not develop this any further. In the case of a fully interpretive film, the story could have worked with a more allegorical vision. However, we learn too much about what is happening and are disappointed with the failure to grow the seeds that are planted.
Looking away from the story, the technical aspects of the film must be commended for their remarkable effectiveness. The score by Stuart A. Staples is mesmerising and the cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is terrifying in one moment and beautiful in the next. These elements work incredibly well in the scenes that are effective, and do their best to elevate the ones that are not.
High Life is a film that is incredibly powerful in its imagery but uneven when it comes to its narrative. It presents an experience that viewers will not forget, even if it falls short of being as good as it could be. In many ways it is a mixed bag, disappointing with regards to lost potential but truly effective in much of its presentation. Overall, High Life is an extremely interesting picture, one worth experiencing despite its flaws.