Social wars and lethal desires to enjoy life to the fullest guide Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel. Arguably his most bonkers film yet but that’s a good thing.
High-Rise opens with Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) in a desolated apartment killing a dog and preparing it for brunch. In other hands, this scene alone would be treated with sensitivity. Yet in Wheatley’s outlandish world, and staying true to the tone of the novel, it is presented in a very straight-forward, disturbingly frank manner. Thankfully this approach doesn’t disgust the viewer but intrigues them much like Laing’s relationship to the tower block.
We then flashback three months prior to see what led Laing to these disturbing events. It is revealed that Laing is a physician. He moved into the swanky forty story tower block, after his sister passed away, which is structured as a social hierarchy built by architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) who lives at the very top. Laing befriends some of the eccentric residents including a tempermental actor Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), his pregnant wife Helen (Elizabeth Moss) who live on the lower ground of the building as they are considered as lower middle-class status. Going between each floor, Laing grows suspicious of the buildings bizarre events as it starts to breakdown and tensions among the classes’ turns into a warfare as Laing tries to keep his sanity among it all.
High-Rise has been billed as a thriller but comes across more like a Sci-Fi, with its refined futuristic look one forgets it is set in 1975 adding to its disorientating mood and contrasting visuals. Wheatley, screenwriter Amy Jump and cinematographer Laurie Rose create an atmosphere that feels as if the events take place in a parallel universe, embellishing the overall peculiar mood with claustrophobic surroundings with a majority of the film taking place in the building. However, they find imaginative ways to imply the events are actually plausible such as the fitting song choices and the intensity of Laing’s mental state being challenged. The film works best as a metaphor for social perceptions, surreal realism that echoes the work of Stanley Kubrick while the perfect touch of having troublesome events take place in such pristine chic surroundings is reminiscent of David Cronenberg.
High-Rise can occasionally feel rather slow-burning and by the time it slithers into an overwhelming debauchery driven third act, you will probably be thankful that it’s over. What it does do though is stay with you way after the film is over, demanding to be ingrained on your memory much like the events are to Laing. On the day Britain voted to leave the EU, many who were devastated by the result took to social media to point out films that eerily portrayed a dystopian Britain. Many referenced V for Vendetta and Chilldren of Men. With its sharp dark humour and Thatcherite warning, High-Rise could easily be added to that list.
High-Rise is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray and has a range of informative extras such as cast commentaries, interviews and featurettes.