High Life is a 2018 science fiction horror film directed by Claire Denis, in her English-language debut, and written by Denis and her long-time collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau.
A group of criminals serving death sentences are sent on a mission in space to extract alternative energy from a black hole. Each prisoner is treated as a guinea pig by Dr. Dibs (Binoche) for her experiments. Dr Dibs administers sedatives to the passengers. She is fixated on trying to create a child in space through artificial insemination. But has yet to succeed. Sexual activity between prisoners is prohibited. The ship is equipped with “The Box,” a device in a small room that is obsessively used by the crew to masturbate. Monte (Pattinson), the only celibate prisoner, rejects Dibs’ sexual advances.
Following an event one evening where male prisoner Ettore (Mitchell) attempts to rape Boyse (Goth), which leads to an altercation and Ettore’s death. Dibs begins doubling the amount of sedatives each prisoner receives, later sneaking into Monte’s cell and raping him while he is sedated. She then injects his semen into Boyse, who produces a healthy child that Dibs dotes on.
As the ship approaches the black hole, Nansen prepares to pilot a shuttle around it. Unbeknownst to the other prisoners, Boyse kills Nansen with a shovel and takes her place. The shuttle travels through a molecular cloud that alters its trajectory and causes it to dive into the black hole, where Boyse explodes due to spaghettification. Mink later attacks Dibs and injures her, but is then killed by Monte. Dibs informs Monte that the child is his before ejecting herself into space.
What will Monte do now? Can they both survive together?
High Life has an interesting basic concept and I enjoyed the beginning and end. But it was the core of the story that I just couldn’t get into. The characters are poorly fleshed out, I don’t see much from the other prisoners besides them acting on their baser instincts. Additionally, some of their dialogue is flat out weird. It all felt dragged out and unappealing to me.
My favourite moments were the times we spent with Willow and Monte. Those scenes were where the movie shined for me. I liked the underlying metaphors within High Life. We’re only as civilized as our civilization and when there is none, we return to our animalistic nature.
High Life did remind me of Sunshine in places, which is a favourite of mine. I suppose a bleak and melancholy vibe with two people floating alone in space is my jam. But where other characters added to that movie, as I said, these characters only weaken it and drag it down.
Lastly, although the ending is realistic – I mean, who knows what’s inside a black hole – I felt it was an uncreative cop out to essentially just fade to black.
Overall, High Life has a solid concept but is poorly executed in places and dragged down by underdeveloped characters. The emptiness of space, and the idea of creating life in such a place is fascinating. But personally, the overuse of sex felt unnecessary.
The Final Score - 6/10