Wednesday, April 24, 2019

High Life

★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Space has both bewildered me & terrified me since I was a kid. It bewildered me because of all the fascinating things out there that we've discovered & the things that we've yet to discover. But it terrifies me because of how dark & desolate it is.

High Life perfectly captures this scintillating paradox. The film follows Monte (played by Robert Pattinson), a prisoner serving a life sentence for the childhood murder of his friend. Monte, along with Tcherny (played by André Benjamin), Boyse (played by Mia Goth), Mink (played by Claire Tran), Ettore (played by Ewan Mitchell), & Elektra (played by Gloria Obianyo), have been selected to participate in an alternative energy finding mission in space near a black hole with the promise that they will be released from custody once they return. The mission is headed by Dr. Dibs (played by Juliette Binoche), who uses the prisoners as guinea pigs, as she is obsessed with the idea of creating a child through artificial insemination. Also on the ship are the pilot, Nansen (played by Agata Buzek), & the captain, Chandra (played by Lars Eidinger). Sexual activity is prohibited on the ship, but the crew uses a device known as The Box for self-pleasure. Monte is the only celibate person on the ship. For the most part, he keeps to himself, except with Tcherny, who he considers his only friend on the ship.

As the ship nears the black hole, the ship descends into chaos, as death & carnage become commonplace. But Monte will be most affected, as he will sire a daughter, Willow (played as a newborn by Joni Brauer & Johann Barwitz, as an infant by Scarlett Lindsey, & as a teenager by Jessie Ross). As he comes to terms with being a father, Monte must also come to terms with the idea that he, along with the other people on the ship, will never be released from custody & will never return to Earth.

The cast is phenomenal. Robert Pattinson continues to show that he is more than Edward Cullen in Twilight (which he wasn't even that bad in), & cements himself as an actor with immense range & command. Juliette Binoche is at her best in years. André Benjamin gives a shockingly great performance. And the rest of the cast, especially Mia Goth & Jessie Ross, give great supporting performances.

Claire Denis' direction is immaculate. Denis deviates from the normal high-budget sci-fi approach we've been accustomed to, going for a more intimate yet dark & disturbing approach, & it works perfectly here.

The screenplay by Claire Denis & Jean-Pol Fargeau is brilliant. The plot is terrific, tackling so many complex themes, such as sexuality, the death penalty, & space exploration. The characters are intricately detailed, & the dialogue is perfectly calculated.

Yorick Le Saux's cinematography is superb. Shot in a compact 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the framing makes the audience feel claustrophobic & more unnerved by the events that unfold.

And the score by Stuart A. Staples is astonishing. Populated by synths & discordant sounds, Staples' score gives us a feeling of uneasiness that works well with the film.

This is one of the best films of the year so far. It's a visually stunning, disturbing, & excellently-made sci-fi horror film.

High Life was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Saturday, April 20, 2018. It is currently in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; & the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 113 minutes, & it is rated R for disturbing sexual & violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, & for language.

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