Looking at the first trailer for High Life, the upcoming space thriller from A24 and director Claire Denis, it’s understandable if viewers have no idea what to expect. There’s some frantic cutting and screaming and bellowing and blood that makes it look like a space-madness movie along the lines of Event Horizon. There are quiet images of Twilight star Robert Pattinson playing with a baby, which feel more like they belong to a quiet, internal science fiction story like Moon. There are moments of EVA dread that feel like outtakes from Gravity. And there are snippets of highfalutin, poetic, opaque voiceover that put the whole thing into a more Annihilation-esque light.
It’s a lot for one trailer. And yet in terms of telling viewers what to expect from the film, it’s very little.
In that sense, the High Life trailer feels pretty perfect: it summons up a sense of dread, intensity, and personality without actually giving much away about the story. That’s not unusual for a trailer from distribution house A24, one of the most eclectic and daring release companies operating today. In recent years, A24 has been responsible for putting out movies from Moonlight to Green Room to Hereditary and A Ghost Story.
But it’s worth taking a step back from the propulsion of this teaser, and noting that A24 has also released some pretty deceptive trailers, making films like The Witch and It Comes at Night look much more like intense, conventional jump-scare horror movies than they actually are. Both films suffered some bad word of mouth after moviegoers felt they hadn’t gotten the movie they’d seen advertised.
And that may be the case here, as well. In early reviews from 2018’s Toronto International Film Festival, critics were mostly impressed with High Life, praising it as a “high-minded” film in the vein of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. But those reviews largely point at High Life as an abstract, languid film about the nature of human existence. Vanity Fair’s K. Austin Collins calls it “a study of the artificial limits we put on our desires — and the ways those desires naturally betray us.” The Verge’s Bryan Bishop only described it as “glacially paced” — which certainly doesn’t fit this trailer.
A more philosophical, inquisitive look at humanity certainly fits Claire Denis’ past projects. Her French-language films, like Chocolat and Beau Travail, largely deal with the weight of colonialism, especially in African countries. Even her New French Extremity horror film Trouble Every Day has been criticized as being too metaphorical and abstract to come to grips with its graphically bloody drama. None of which is to say viewers should avoid High Life — they should just be aware that it’s more likely to be an intellectual experience than a scary space thrill ride.
For those who prefer to know more about the movie they’re about to see, here’s the official summary of High Life from A24’s site. Warning: it definitely gives away more than this trailer.
Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his baby daughter are the last survivors of a damned and dangerous mission to deep space. The crew — death-row inmates led by a doctor (Juliette Binoche) with sinister motives — has vanished. As the mystery of what happened onboard the ship is unraveled, father and daughter must rely on each other to survive as they hurtle toward the oblivion of a black hole.
High Life is due in theaters on April 12th, 2019.