High Life ★★★½

Not sure that Claire Denis' physically discomforting sci-fi narrative of experiments and sperm-harvesting on cast-off felons and death row inmates who've been jettisoned toward a black hole "for science" is wholly successful -- there are some rough patches of dialogue, a few sidelines that seem superfluous, and the story doesn't allow its initial sense of mystery to take hold -- but its grime and originality are such a relief compared with the mannered, over-scripted, phony wonder of bloated, middlebrow blockbuster-adjacent American films like The Martian, Interstellar and Arrival. The first act is hypnotic, imparting just enough information and beautifully exploring memory and the morbid elasticity of time; afterward, Denis never surrenders to the tiresome reliance on exposition that mars those other pictures, preferring to pile weirdness on top of weirdness, but the midsection of the film, despite good performances by a gifted ensemble and a splendidly wicked turn by Juliette Binoche, is a little too much in the Alien mold for me, lacking the elegant, otherworldly spareness of the scenes of Pattinson alone with a child. Still, even the less compelling parts have their flagrant Cronenbergian grossness and Denis' peerless mise en scene to recommend them. There may be no director alive whose love for the form itself is more obvious, and the subtle nods to 2001 (Mia Goth's last scene is... something) and Stalker feel simultaneously like a warm missive from the past and like a warning bell that those hopes no longer apply here.