HIGH-RISE is a nauseating multi-storey mess that would be entirely unwatchable were it not for the resplendent British acting talent on display, not least in man of the moment Tom Hiddleston.
Hiddleston could be sat silently reading a book and I’d still see him finish it and close the cover before I moved on in search of new thrills. That’s just as well because he needs all the captivating stillness he’s got to keep us in our seats for this two-hour slog that feels more like four on a bad acid trip.
Disjointed, disorientating, badly edited and lacking any real political point – or in its absence any substantial slatherings of charm, humour or genuine horror – High-Rise is Brit director Ben Wheatley’s (A Field in England, Sightseers) first big-ish budget outing and sadly he’s left the house prematurely.
Wheatley’s misfire is all the more irritating because he’s been given a dream cast with which to realise J. G. Ballard’s 1975 dystopian novel about a high-rise block where madness runs like a sickness up and down the tower and on all sides of the class divide.
Sienna Milller, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, James Purefoy and Keeley Hawes are just some of the names scrolling up the screen. Miller and Evans in particular are superb, but their nuanced performances are lost in the maelstrom of maniacal events like tears in the rain.
When the power goes out in amoral architect Antohny Royals’ (Jeremy Irons) monolithic block of flats, which are divided by class with the upper floors inhabited by the wealthy and the lower floors by the working classes, its residents descend into a chaos that shatters their micro-society into tiny slivers.
Making matters worse is the fact that everyone in the building seems to have been a latent sociopath just waiting to flourish. Not a one responds with any humanity as the halls fill with rubbish and their fellow man is beaten and raped in the corridors of the building without motive. As a viewer we’re left to simply watch in detachment, favouring neither side because Amy Jump’s adaptation is so devoid of pathos that we just don’t care. Everyone in the aslyum is mad and that’s that.
Not even Dr Robert Laing (Hiddleston) can stop the mania from washing over him. Rather than acting as a conduit through which the audience could understand this dark world Laing just goes with the flow and starts getting peculiar as well. We lose him part of the way through as the camera focuses on other acts of depravity being carried out by its huge cast and then find him again, painting his flat grey amid the chaos.
Symbolically the fruit in the once clean and new residential estate’s supermarket is shown to be decaying. It’s symbolic. Did I say that? I assume it is anyway, it’s just cut in at random as the locals thrash at each other in the aisles.
On the movie goes, trudging through shocking scenes of pathological skin peeling, extreme suicide close-ups, harrowing beatings and dull conversations about what’s happening all without any sense of driving plot or purpose. It’s gratuitously absurd.
And then it ends, with a radio cut of Margaret Thatcher talking about capitalism and a comment that resonates not at all with what has been shown on screen. Is it Thatcher’s capitalist fervour that has caused all this crazy? Wheatley is apparently telling us so.
Final word: The inhabitants of High-Rise create a hell for themselves while director Ben Wheatley does it for the viewer. If films are about telling stories, this one falters in delivering its most basic tenet.
If you liked High-Rise, you should also watch:
- A Clockwork Orange
- The Double
- The Lobster
- Grand Budapest Hotel