Trailer Park Thursday: “High Life” and “Destroyer”

As the leaves begin to fall and the sun sets earlier, the Halloween spirit has us ready to get weird. Luckily for us, the cinema gods have been happy to oblige! This week brings news of much-anticipated movies from Claire Denis and Karyn Kusama — two acclaimed, sometimes controversial directors who are known for subverting expectations around genre, gender, and even their own oeuvres. One film is set under a punishing, unforgiving beam of Southern California sunlight, and one is set in the unending existential crisis that is the womb-void of outer space. Both feature some of the best actors working today, and both promise to challenge audiences as much as they reward them. Are you salivating yet? 

Claire Denis’ impressive filmography includes the scorching and ravenous Trouble Every Day, the quiet yet profound 35 Shots of Rum, and post-colonial narratives like Chocolat, White Material, and Beau travail. She seems to be synthesizing much of her skill set with this offbeat piece of sexy-scary science fiction, which also happens to be her first feature film in English. First Man, this is not. It’s not 2001: A Space Odyssey either.

Many preliminary reviews are quick to claim that Denis has “reinvented” the genre with High Life, but we’ll reserve judgment. In the film, Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth, and André 3000 star as space convicts commuting their death sentences — on a set created by Danish-Icelandic art star Olafur Eliasson — and tending to infants and plants while chasing the energy of a black hole. This premise feels lovingly reminiscent of other “soft” science fiction with a “hard” edge, like Silent Running, Alien 3, and even, or maybe especially, Duncan Jones’s Moon. Even Juliette Binoche’s luminous, inscrutable, and invasive Dr. Dibs recalls the kind of character that might, with a different auteur at the helm, be played by a computer. To be fair though, we’ve never heard a movie called “orgasmic brilliance in deepest space” before, so there’s that.

It’s unfortunate that Denis’ intended collaboration with author Zadie Smith (Swing Time, White Teeth) — who was once signed on for scripting the film along with her spouse, Nick Laird — didn’t pan out. Laird has a consultant credit, but the screenwriting credits now belong to Denis, her frequent collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau, and Geoff Cox. Denis has cited pervasive and fundamental creative differences as the reason for Smith’s departure, specifically a dispute over the title and the ending. Hey, if Smith wanted to make her version, we’d see it!

Watch Now: High Life director Claire Denis’ understated yet high-impact family drama 35 Shots of Rum is available for streaming on Fandor! And if this trailer makes you want to watch more of High Life star Juliette Binoche, we have you covered with a Double Feature of The English Patient (available on Fandor through October 31) and Elles.

You’re definitely not alone if you have a thing for complicated, difficult, and sometimes even downright unlikable female protagonists. By the looks of it, Nicole Kidman’s Detective Erin Bell is about to join their ranks. Kidman’s stunning transformation is enough to carry us through the trailer for Destroyer, which appears to be a fairly straightforward L.A. neo-noir from director Karyn Kusama. What’s different is that we’ve rarely, if ever, seen a woman in this kind of role before. Not since The Hours has Kidman been so unrecognizable, and not since Charlize Theron in Monster has such a high-caliber actress undergone such a metamorphosis for a performance that, we’re willing to bet, stares so unflinchingly into the abyss. If 2018 is — with the release of Lizzie, Colette, and The Favourite — the year of the queer ingénue, then it must also be the year of the ruthless crone. Think about it: Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? Viola Davis in Widows. And now… 

Karyn Kusama’s last movie (other than her contribution to horror anthology XX) was The Invitation, a strange and violent dinner party chamber piece with heavy cult themes. But her breakout debut was the turn-of-the-millennium boxing drama Girlfight, which also marked the feature debut of The Fast and the Furious star Michelle Rodriguez. In some ways, Kidman’s Detective Bell feels like she borrows from both of those movies: Like the protagonist of Girlfight, she’s a tough, perhaps less-than-likable woman struggling mightily to control her own destiny. But like the protagonist of The Invitation, she is also processing the trauma of a tragedy. Throughout the trailer, the camera seems to perch between her shoulder blades, dutifully following as she limps resolutely towards… well, some kind of resolution.

The trailer itself lays out clues in a dual timeline — stained money found at a crime scene now, a bank robbery has gone wrong then  — but thankfully still leaves the meat of the movie to be discovered. Is it the harbinger of Kidman’s second Academy Award? We wouldn’t rule it out. Destroyer comes to theaters on December 25, the perfect antidote to literally all things holly-jolly.

In case you missed it, last week’s column covered the trailers for three upcoming literary adaptations: “The Little Drummer Girl”, “Pet Sematary,” and “Burning.” And for more unapologetic geek-outs on all things cinematic, don’t miss our rundowns of Fandor’s Favorite Movie Posters (October Edition)The Biggest and Best IMAX Films of All Time, and our reviews of “Vox Lux,” “First Man,” and “Bad Times at the El Royale.”
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