Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Dan Renton Skinner
Written by Amy Jump and (based on the novel) J.G. Ballard
Running Time: 119 mins
Release date: 18th March 2016
Ben Wheatley should be celebrated as one of this country’s finest film directors. After a string of low-budget crackers (Kill List, Sightseers and A Field In England) he has been given a stash of cash by supremo producer Jeremy Thomas, to gather an impressive cast to star in a film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s unfilmable 70’s novel. Has he managed to do what Don’t Look Now director Nicolas Roeg failed to do and bring this impossible book to the screen with success? He certainly has, with a huge dollop of brutality, dark humour and eye-popping inventiveness, where, no matter how big the actors are, the star of this piece is both the building and the director.
Dr Robert Laing has moved into a new apartment complex which is completely self-contained, with its own supermarket, gym and swimming pool. After being spied upon by neighbour, Charlotte Melville, Laing is seduced into a society of class, with the super rich living on the upper floors, while the families live below. When the power starts to drain, all society starts to break down and the class structure become a warring factor where only the strong will survive and with Laing right in the middle.
Let’s just get this out in the open immediately. High-Rise is not for everyone. Structurally it is a mess, jumping from one sequence to another with voice-overs, confused images and Clint Mansell’s impressive score invading every scene. Yet you are drawn into this claustrophobic world, where you watch as society slowly breaks down until there is a huge dividing line between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy. A society where you take without giving back in return. Where intelligent human beings become increasingly feral.
Watching Wheatley’s vision, with the help of Amy Jump’s extremely well-judged script, is like living through a dystopian nightmare and the director uses visuals brilliantly. It has the feel of the great directors that experimented during the 70’s like the aforementioned Roeg and Ken Russell while having its own unique voice too. Yet for all its tricks and treats, the building plays such an important part to the film working. Thanks to stunning production designs, this slab of concrete seems to live and breathe as much as the characters who live there. As we witness these people fighting for bragging rights and for food, the building, with its dark corridors and creepy mirrored penthouse lift, becomes almost like a monster in a horror film, engulfing everyone who resides, turning them into animals.
Along with a strong visual sense, the performances are impeccable. Tom Hiddleston gives another pitch perfect performance as Laing, all smooth and charming yet never letting you inside his head to see what he is really thinking. Jeremy Irons adds class to the proceedings as Royal, the designer of the building who lives in the penthouse and seems to be the King of the castle, just waiting to be overthrown. Once again, Sienna Miller has turned her career around as the sensual yet mysterious Charlotte, while Elizabeth Moss puts on a nearly perfect English accent as a young mother, who is expecting, caught up in the horror of this out-of-control world.
High-Rise is not perfect in any sense. It’s humour sometimes fails to hit the mark and the message about a class world sometimes gets lost among the debauched behaviour of the rich. Yet for all its flaws (or should I say floors) High-Rise is a completely visceral experience that uses the strengths of cinema to the max and delivers a film that acts more like the food of nightmares. It’s a polished, self-assured production that draws you in and refuses to open the doors to let you out.
It’s not a thriller but it will thrill you. It’s not a comedy but you will laugh. It’s not a statement on society but you will think about the day when the people could overthrow the government and then a state of chaos will commence. What it is, however, is inventive, perspective, creepy and wildly imaginative. (And it has one of the coolest posters around).