Convicted criminals on death row are given the option to live out their sentences on a space mission to see if it is possible to extract alternative energy sources from black holes. Kept in check and experimented on by the ships doctor Dibs (Juliette Binoche), the crew start to crumble and struggle with the consequences of their mission.
Bleak, depressing, sombre and methodic, ‘High Life’ arrives like a blast of fresh air in the recently overcrowded sci-fi market. It is the type of thoughtful take on the genre that continental films makers specialise in. It has the feel of 'Solaris' and the look of 'Delicatessen' so in many ways it is the film that I always wanted 'Alien Resurrection' to be.
It is always nice when a film treats the audience like adults. It never stresses a point too hard and throws a lot of concepts at you, some better than others. About 10 minutes of the film is given away to a box that functions to help the crew masturbate, which it is stated most have become obsessed with. It is never mentioned again and feels out of place.
The film sets its tone and logic early and never deviates from it, which is all too rare in this genre. It never delves that deep into science but does enough explaining to answer the questions most of us have. Hints of the implications of space travel abound so it feels like a palpable reality.
Most things are never really explained and only suggested ,this works the vast majority of the time as it keeps up the suspense and paints a rich, complex picture of the crew. But sometimes it's a bit too arthouse for its own good and there is a couple of moments where it is not clear what’s happened and why.
Robert Pattinson is utilised well. Even though he is not particularly emotive and spends most of his time gloomily looking into the middle distance, it works well and certainly does a good job of carrying the audience along even if we are unsure of his character. Binoche is, of course, brilliant. She manages to strike a great balance between sinister impishness and complex anti-villain.
The rest of the ship's crew are fairly standard but played well and hits all the beats you’d expect with criminals in space. There are a few elements that are certainly edgy but done well so they don’t come across too gratuitous, the film puts in the work to make these scenes pay off properly.
If the film has any real fault is that it goes on longer than it should. I was sure it had ended and thought "well that was pretty satisfying", then was surprised that the narrative continued for another 20 minutes. At this point, it kind of just meanders around with no real point or focus then just fritters out.
Well developed and thoughtful, ‘High Life’ is a good antidote to those looking to avoid the blockbuster season even if it does go on a bit.