Ben Wheatley continues to make a name for himself with an increased budget in this adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s cult novel High Rise.
Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into the High Rise, a vast apartment block that has everything that its occupants could need. As the tower rises, the economic status of its residents does the same. As intermittent power failures and other problems start to affect the building, the social order starts to turn to chaos.
High-Rise has aspects of Wheatley’s previous work in its DNA; the violence and gore of Kill List, the dark humour of Sightseers, the kaleidoscopic visuals and surrealism of A Field in England. However, the production is obviously a step up from his previous work, creating a technically more accomplished film. High Rise is Wheatley’s best looking film yet, whether it’s Laing reflected over and over in the opulent lift, a clear reference to the shot in Citizen Kane, or the juxtaposition between the lush green garden at the top of the high rise, with the bleak industrial landscape just outside of its walls. Amy Jump’s script keeps High-Rise to the book’s time zone of the mid-1970’s. As such the technology of the film has a wonderfully analogue feel to it, contrasted to the large slabs of concrete that make up the building. The book’s subject matter also still remains prescient with the class system and inequality still an issue today.
Wheatley has also assembled a great cast. Hiddleston is magnetic as Laing and helps you get drawn into the film. Equally enjoyable is Luke Evans, as the increasingly erratic and hard partying alpha male Richard Wilder, who must surely be considered a co-lead. Sienna Miller continues to happily surprise and turn up where you least expect and Elizabeth Moss tries her hand at an English accent, with mostly positive results.
As the high rise descends into chaos and disorder, so, unfortunately, does the film. An entertaining and interesting build up in the first half leads to not a lot in the second. The film’s initial work, in drawing you in setting up a surreal and blackly comic world, ends up just leaving you with not much, as the film reveals that it doesn’t really have anywhere to go or much else to do. As such, the second half starts to drag and the film pushes at its bloated two-hour running time, as it just piles up more debauchery and chaos on top of itself.
High-Rise is Wheatley’s best film since Kill List but it is still beset with problems. It often looks great but an enjoyable first half gives way to a dull and dragging second half, due to the film’s lack of focus and drive. There are things to admire and enjoy but High-Rise can’t help but be a bit of a disappointment.
HIGH-RISE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BEN WHEATLEY / SCREENPLAY: AMY JUMP / STARRING: TOM HIDDLESTON, SIENNA MILLER, JEREMY IRONS, LUKE EVANS / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 18TH