Welcome to the newest, most posh high-rise in London. It’s forty stories tall and has all the latest technology and amenities a tenant could want–a gym, a pool, a spa, even a market. Young, single, and handsome Dr. Robert Laing has just moved into an apartment on the 25th floor, and after meeting some of the many eccentric residents, he starts to see that there is an obvious class division in the building. The wealthy live at the top, and the less fortunate live on the lower levels. And when frequent power failures cause the people at the bottom to rebel, the high-rise becomes ground zero for an all-out war between the classes.
High-Rise is an adaptation of the JG Ballard novel of the same name that was written in 1975. The movie keeps the story in that time period, and while there are comments in here about what was going on in London at the time, this is a story that really could have taken place in any year. The conflict is still the same. The architectural design of the high-rise itself acts as an imposing force on the residents. It is concrete and cold, with many sharp angles all over the place. The penthouse suite of the building’s designer, Anthony Royal, further makes the audience feel like they are in a whole new world. There is a large garden that houses both a goat and a horse for Royal’s wife, Ann. The market on the 15th floor is also very stark and rather fake-looking–another façade.
What I like about High-Rise‘s dystopian vision, and what makes it a bit different than other similar films, is this idea of a self-contained apocalypse. The rest of the world is just fine–the crumbling of society only takes place in this one building. Residents still get cleaned up and go to their jobs every day, but they come home to absolute chaos. At the same time, the extremity of the situation works against the movie being really cohesive. There are some minor blackouts, which understandably makes the tenants angry, but things don’t ever seem like they could get that bad. But just one short montage later, and the building is a complete wasteland. Even more unbelievably, everybody accepts this as the new way of life way too easily.
The extremes of the movie also extend to the characters. Tom Hiddleston as Laing remains mostly a mystery, and is the literal middleman of the cast. His placement in the building has him being pulled between people of both the upper and lower class, such as Royal, played by the always engaging Jeremy Irons, and the pregnant housewife on the second floor, Helen, played by Elisabeth Moss. The rest of the characters are really more like caricatures than believable people. Their social interactions, even with people they are meeting for the first time, are always very odd, and they don’t talk the way normal people do. It’s really no surprise when they all start indulging in their primal passions for violence and sex. Royal saw his creation as a possibility for change, but still rules with the upper class with seemingly no qualms about the sad state of his beloved building and/or the people inside.
I found High-Rise to be quite interesting, but still a bit flawed in its logic. The message of the crumbling of a structured society leading to people acting like animals is obvious, but there wasn’t enough of or the right kind of buildup to this end to make it really believable, and therefore have more resonance. Perhaps I would have appreciated it more if I was better in tune with the political or socio-economical issues of the time and location. I’m definitely tempted to pick up the book for myself to see if it gives me a different perspective on the film. Nonetheless, High-Rise is definitely a great flick to watch for the stellar cast and beautiful visual style.
The special features on the Blu-Ray for High-Rise are pretty sparse. There are some behind-the-scenes featurettes on the initial concept of the movie, the effects, and the costuming and production design, but they are all less than 15 minutes long. There is a feature-length commentary with director Ben Wheatley, Hiddleston, and producer Jeremy Thomas which does offer some more insight from both the actors’ standpoint and the filmmakers’ on how they brought Ballard’s vision to the screen. The Blu-Ray is gorgeous and really shows off the filming style in particular scenes, like the slow motion shot of a body falling from the building onto a car below.
Wicked Rating: 5/10
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, James Purefoy, Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller
Release: August 2, 2016 Blu-Ray and DVD
Studio/ Production Co: Magnolia Pictures (US media)
Length: 120 Minutes