High Life (18)****

Dir: Claire Denis

With: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth

Runtime: 113 minutes

FOR a fair bit of Claire Denis’s science fiction drama, Robert Pattinson looks like that old Athena poster of man with baby brought to life. Do not let looks fool you, though.

Though the former Twilight teen idol is indeed handsome, and his co-star baby is very cute indeed, this is a far from universally cuddly tale, as the 18 certificate suggests.

Monte (Pattinson) has been sent to space as part of a plea deal for convicts. Take part in a social and fertility experiment led by Dibs (Juliette Binoche) and in return avoid the death penalty. Seems like an okay bargain, but as we survey the mess in a ship that is empty save for Monte and a baby girl, Willow, it is clear something has gone badly wrong in this brave new world. But Monte ploughs on, contacting HQ every day to ask for another 24 hours of support.

With not much in the way of budget, French director Denis (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum) does a terrific job conjuring up the sense of a spaceship adrift, its residents fleeing from a planet gone to pot. Her storytelling style is a masterclass in showing rather than telling. Flashbacks aside, the viewer is left to fill in sizeable gaps in the tale of what might have happened on this voyage into the unknown.

Pattinson, for long stretches on his own with the baby, exerts a hefty grip on the attention. The ex-Twilight star has chosen his roles post blockbuster well: it was always clear what a talent he was, and with the likes of High Life and 2017’s Good Time he is confirming it. Binoche, her character possessed of a back story of her own, adds depth and weight to what might otherwise come across as just another mad scientist.

Altogether, the story that unfolds has some deeply weird, and shocking, moments, which only adds to the sense of disorientation the viewer feels from the off.

An unsettling watch, but a beautifully made, original piece that comes with a whisper of hope.