HIGH-RISE [London Film Festival 2015]

PrintE-mail Written by Peter Turner

While lesser filmmakers get their heads down and sprint into the mainstream after even the most offbeat of beginnings, Ben Wheatley appears determined to keep himself steadfast on the outskirts of conventional filmmaking. High-Rise may feature his starriest cast yet with a so-hot-right-now Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller, but this is definitely no cautious step towards blockbuster boredom. Wheatley follows up the dazzlingly weird and wonderfully experimental A Field in England with something higher budget but equally perplexing, adapting J. G. Ballard's ‘70s novel.

Opting to keep the ‘70s setting of the book, High-Rise offers an oddly nightmarish vision of what a near-future building would look like as conceived in the ‘70s. It’s the future as seen from the past, and at the same time an apparition of a future that has already passed. The residents of a brand new tower block descend into a mad orgy of sex and violence as the different floors of the building turn to tribalism and savagery. Isolated by their own free will from the outside world, petty grievances over usage of the building’s swimming pool and waste chutes become amplified as the high-rise structure begins to disintegrate and the formerly ‘civilised’ society inside collapses.

It's soon every man, woman, child, horse and dog for his or her self as Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) gets caught in the middle of the snooty upper floor residents including paternalistic building architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) and the people from the lower floors, most notably the impulsive Richard Wilding (Luke Evans). As food becomes scarce and the rubbish piles up, Wheatley revels in the chaos of the building, weaving hypnotic visuals as social order crumbles.

A satire of excess and individualism, Wheatley seems endlessly amused by Ballard and regular screenwriter Amy Jump's characters as they take a walk on the primal side. Their sophisticated masks are peeled off as the building takes its toll on them all. Wheatley emphasises the isolation of the building; the cold grey walls and endless car parks might have looked enticing in the ‘70s but now just look bleak and miserable. Only the rooftop garden of the penthouse offers any escape, and that is a barely seen, and clearly completely sealed-off delusion of Royal's wife's desire for a return to a normal environment.

Luke Evans is the wild card of the cast, his id to Hiddleston's ego and Irons' superego, unsurprisingly getting to have all the fun. Whether leading a party of kids to take back the building's pool from the upper floor residents or snorting lines and smashing faces, Evans is off the chain in a way his Fast and Furious 6 villain could only ever dream of. Meanwhile, Hiddlestoners can relish Tom with his kit off, as he catches the eyes of quite a few of the lady residents.

The kaleidoscopic intertwining of characters suits the sense of escalating chaos, but High-Rise won't endear Wheatley to mainstream audiences. Its weird and its wild, but it could have been more streamlined to create a more engaging narrative, and even a clearer, sharper satire. It’s full of potentially interesting characters, but most feel left underexplored (most notably the women) and the satire certainly could have been more stinging. It’s another bold film from Wheatley, but doesn't quite match the films that reside on the top floor of his career so far.


Expected Rating: 9 out of 10

Actual Rating:

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