'High Life' - Bringing up space baby

High Life

Every now and then, I’ll see a movie like High Life or If Beale Street Could Talk and I’ll think to myself: ‘Ya know, having a baby seems like it could be a really rewarding and special experience. Maybe, someday, the time will be right.’

Then, like clockwork, the movie will continue and that thought will eventually transform into one more along the lines of: ‘No, Brandon, there really isn’t any need to rock the boat here. That looks exhausting and you’re somebody who considers a bag of Cheetos to be a balanced meal, so let’s just save parenthood for the more responsible people out there.’

I don’t know, maybe I’d feel differently if I was trapped in space for years and years like Robert Pattinson was in High Life, but I think I’m good for now.

From French director Claire Denis, High Life is a new sci-fi drama/horror from A24 that’s very slowly making its way into theaters across the country.

High Life
credit: YouTube

The film, which has a really nonlinear timeline as it jumps here and there whenever it damn well pleases (Denis is going to Denis), takes place inside a spaceship that left Earth many, many years ago.

There are only two survivors onboard that spaceship — a full-grown man named Monte (Pattinson), and a baby girl named Willow (Scarlette Lindsey).

For a while, the movie is literally only about the two of them, too. We’re not told why they’re here, how they got here or where they are going, but rather just follow them in their daily life as they navigate the ship, perform regular maintenance, work inside the ship’s garden and, more so than anything else, sleep. Turns out there really isn’t a whole lot to do in space when you only have a baby for company.

It’s around the twenty-minute mark of High Life, though, that we begin to see signs that Monte wasn’t always alone. It’s gradual, at first, but we’re quickly lead to believe that this ship was once home to a large crew who have all now seemingly disappeared.

A large crew of former criminals, that is.

High Life
credit: YouTube

Through flashbacks and a few clumsily placed expositional scenes that take place on earth with random characters who don’t factor into the story whatsoever, we learn that this ship is part of a government experiment to extract energy from a nearby black hole that has appeared.

Knowing that this mission is incredibly dangerous and could easily fail, the government decides not to send trained astronauts on this journey but, instead, a bunch of death row convicts. Nobody is going to miss them if they die up there, so why not, right?

As if that idea wasn’t bad enough on its own (seriously, who signed off on this?), a psychotic woman named Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) who makes things much, much worse is also allowed to accompany the inmates on the trip.

Dibs isn’t interested in this whole black hole mission or whatever. She’s up in space for her own, personal reasons — those reasons being to perform sexual and invasive experiments on the inmates in hopes that she’ll get one of the female prisoners to conceive a baby while they’re floating around through the cosmos.

High Life
credit: YouTube

Why would she want to do such a thing? Literally, who knows, but cue the kinky sex dungeon, the love-making robot and all the bodily fluids you could possibly imagine nonetheless.

Not the Robert Pattinson fluff-piece you were expecting, huh? Seriously, I’d pay good money to hear reactions from people who went into High Life just because Pattinson was in it, as they likely came out of this one mortified about what they just witnessed.

I guess we really shouldn’t expect anything less from Claire Denis, though, should we? While I’m not all too well-versed in her large filmography, I’m well aware that she’s a director who likes to put a personal stamp on every project she takes on.

Parts of that stamp work really well in High Life. Other parts, well, just don’t quite do it for me.

I will gladly stand-up and testify that the first twenty minutes of this movie are great. Denis introduces us to this whole situation and, more importantly, just lets it sit, forcing our minds to wander as we question what happened to the crew and, more importantly, where this baby came from. There’s almost an Alien kind of quality to it, given that we feel such isolation all while knowing something terrible is likely to happen at any second.

High Life
credit: YouTube

The whole movie doesn’t immediately cave once that rug is pulled out from under us. They set up the hostile yet scared dynamic between the crew in a capable manner, as Pattinson is accompanied by Mia Goth, André Benjamin and this one guy who looks EXACTLY like Bo Burnham but, apparently, isn’t.

After a while, though, it becomes apparent that there’s one overbearing problem with High Life — this movie can’t pick a tone

There’s a moment when Dr. Dibbs heads down to use the sexbot and, judging by the way the scene it’s filmed, you’d swear you’re watching a deleted scene of The Witch. There’s even dialogue establishing the fact that Dibbs sees himself as some kind of sorceress, as the nearly five-minute-long sequence feels like some kind of ancient, dimly-lit ritual that’s accompanied by some pretty haunting music in the background.

Weird, right? Kind of cool and horrifying all at the same time, but I can get on board with that, I think.

Not long after that, the whole movie rapidly shifts as we then watch not Bo Burnham walk around the women’s quarters as he’s trying to decide who he’s going to rape. We might have expected that subject matter to come up in some way when dealing with this premise, but there’s no reason they had to go as far as it did.

High Life
credit: YouTube

Other times, Dr. Dibbs is walking around like this over-the-top villain who feels like she’s coming straight out of an X-rated comic book. And then, there are other moments where this whole thing is trying to be so contemplative and vast that it feels like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

All of this to say that High Life really isn’t my cup of tea. There are other people who will feel differently, of course, and that’s totally okay. I say all of this knowing that I’m not necessarily the direct target audience for this film, meaning I can still appreciate things like Pattinson’s performance (he doesn’t speak a whole lot, but he’s still good) and the cinematography.

That being said, I’m a little bummed because I did think that this movie was going to be for me. I went in expecting The Witch set in space, so when they switch things up in such a major way, I found myself frustrated at how this movie bounced around from tone to tone.

In the end, it’s fine. I don’t hate it, but I’d also put it more to the bottom of the list of recent A24 films alongside Under the Silver Lake and Climax — meaning that I’m ready for this studio to put out something that wows me again.

Here’s to hoping that Midsommar or The Last Black Man in San Francisco does the trick.

Watch the trailer for High Life here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the movie!

'High Life' - Bringing up space baby [REVIEW]
  • 'High Life' - Bringing up space baby [REVIEW]
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Brandon Schreur

The fella over there with the hella good hair. Movies and TV are my jam, and the fact that I get to write about them on a regular basis is the bees knees.

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