Movie review: 'High Life'

Brad Keefe

The Columbus release of Claire Denis' “High Life” was delayed at the last minute this week, meaning it will open locally against the behemoth that is “Avengers: Endgame” (and possibly the same day as new Taylor Swift music!).

It's probably going to be no competition for anyone but the arthouse crowd, but Denis' haunting sci-fi flick felt like a near-masterpiece on first viewing. And it's one that seems to call for a repeat.

It's a far cry from a crowd-pleaser, but it's an atmospheric, shocking and sometimes confounding film that has been one of the more challenging viewings of the year.

Monte (Robert Pattinson, continuing to make bold choices that make us all forget “Twilight”) and his infant daughter are the last survivors aboard a space mission destined for a black hole.

We meet Monte as he cares for his daughter in scenes that are simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. He hides his despair in a seemingly hopeless situation, performing routine duties on the drifting spaceship.

Flashing back, we learn more about the doomed passengers on a mission involving human fertility and under the direction of a harsh authoritarian named Dibs (Juliette Binoche, evoking more than a bit of Nurse Ratched).

With a pace and atmosphere that evokes Stanley Kubrick's “2001,” Denis explores enough themes that make “High Life” difficult to wrap your brain around. And entering a summer season where movies won't often make us think, that's a good thing.

There's a range of raw emotion — loneliness and lust, parental hope and hopelessness — as well as some scenes that are shocking and disturbing (including difficult scenes involving rape).

Denis is also not content to give the audience tidy answers or narrative. For me, “High Life” evoked some of the same feelings as other dark arthouse sci-fi flicks, like “Under the Skin,” or last year's “Annihilation” — both of which I thought were brilliant, but also divisive.

Pattinson continues to impress since his brilliant turn in the underseen “Good Time.” It's an anchoring performance that's often understated, but with some heavy punctuating moments.

Binoche is brilliant, as usual, in a quasi-villain role, and the film features a solid supporting cast, including Andre Benjamin and Mia Goth.

The lack of easy answers or conclusions will leave some shaking their heads, but I'm willing to bet “High Life” will stick with you viewing after viewing.

Opens April 26 in Columbus

4 stars out of 5

“High Life”