Review: 'High Life' hurtles into the void

Experimental sci-fi drama questions existence, space sex

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Robert Pattinson in "High Life."

You've got to hand it to Robert Pattinson. Since becoming a teenage heartthrob in the "Twilight" series, the actor has done everything in his power to work against that image, taking on roles in brazenly anti-commercial films and working with interesting, high-minded directors. 

Perhaps he'll one day return to popular films, but "High Life" ain't it. This sci-fi mindbender is as shocking as it is baffling as it is frustrating, a study of human existence hurtling into the void, and also psycho-sexual interstellar erotica.  

French filmmaker Claire Denis, working for the first time in English, centers on a group of prisoners in outer space. They're heading toward a black hole — the film makes the point that we all are, in a sense — while Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche) experiments on them sexually. We get graphic instances of space rape and space masturbation, as well as a detailed depiction of artificial insemination, all of which are designed to make audiences squirm. In that sense, it's successful. 

Otherwise, "High Life" is a bust, a bleak, droll experiment in shock cinema for the high art crowd. Denis is parsing questions as big as the universe is deep, but rarely is she forming those questions into cogent thoughts, let alone providing answers. But the universe has no answers, it seems to say. And around and around we go. 

The cast does well within the confines of the void of the script, co-written by Denis. Mia Goth and Andre Benjamin are among the prisoners, and Jessie Ross plays the grown daughter of Pattinson's character. They're all guinea pigs on board for the ride. "High Life's" audience will know how they feel.


'High Life'


Rated R: for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and for language

Running time: 113 minutes