13th May2019

‘High Life’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek, Lars Eidinger, Claire Tran, Ewan Mitchell, Gloria Obianyo, Jessie Ross, Victor Banerjee | Written by Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox | Directed by Claire Denis


High Life is directed by Claire Denis and is her thirteenth film in an esteemed critically acclaimed filmography, but also stands as a few firsts; being her English language debut and her first collaboration with teen heartthrob turned indie megastar, Robert Pattinson. High Life is a low budget high concept sensual thriller. It’s boisterously provocative and sensually stoic. A conundrum of explicit desire and morbid curiosity that burns its way into your brain with an illustrious haze of pragmatic intensity.

The filmmaking on offer is simply superb with the cinematography from Yorick Le Sau being a stellar highlight. The framing and composition are distant and therefore evokes this highly daunting theme of isolation. It’s only when the thematic tide changes in which the camera resolves into an uncomfortable state of close-ups is it clear what game French auteur Denis is here to play, and, it certainly isn’t one you’ve ever seen or heard before. Its naturalism meets evolution. A manner of two groups that meld together in perfect contradictory harmony. Presumably, a clinical esoteric decision on Denis part to engulf the sense of the enigmatic absurdity of the plot that unfolds. The colour alone is remarkably striking. A cold blue haze morphing into a beaming glittering gold isotope is just one fragmented momentary notion of the idyllic prowess in store for the viewer. It means nothing, yet, at the same time defines the picture on a whole.

With any science fiction – or any picture for that manner – that revolves around an abstract context, you’re going to get hit in the depth of budget. This isn’t Interstellar 2.0 or has Christopher Nolan’s name written all over it, and it’s clear that Denis – unlike her male contemporaries – is working on an extremely tight budget, but with daunting limitation brings the best out of creativity. What we’re gifted here in High Life is something quite special, and something you’ve never and will never see again. The quality of craft here is something so audacious and deeply subversive with how compelling, yet, restraint the filmmaking is. The visuals, in particular, are an aspect that is so restraint in how they’re produced but have this intoxicating beauty wrapped around them. There’s no science lesson involved here. What you see is what you get and with that a focused narrative. Leading to an engaging and lengthy character study that propels this already uniquely alluring feature into something more.

The performances all round have this captivating bedazzlement, even with a severely lacking backstory. However, it’s this enigmatic mysticism that surrounds these characters exercised with only small snippets of footage and small instances of exposition by editor Guy Lecorne that define who these characters are as human beings. It’s all down to the characteristics of the cast themselves that brings these personalities to life. Mia Goth, for one, crafts a truly haunting performance in a morbid blend of paranoia and slight teenage angst. It’s a mixture of this sense of mood and spirit that elevates Denis picture into a melting pot of intensity and mysterious atmosphere, that slowly but surely reveals its true colours in time.

Leading actor Robert Pattinson continues his ongoing trend of heavy indie film endorsement after Good Time, The Lost City of Z and now with High Life. This continuing trend of performance enunciation is projecting Pattinson into a stratosphere that only he and the likes of Shia LeBeouf are currently experiencing. There are no expectations, and with that, the results are so much more invigorating and unexpected. His role as Monte is just that. At times it feels calculated with specific rehearsed nuances, then in the next scene, you’re invited into what feels organically experimental. It’s an invariably refreshing take on what could be a relatively predictable and condensed performance, and with that Pattinson, presumably with help from Denis, formulates something nothing short of spectacular.

High Life is in UK cinemas now.

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