HIGH-RISE (UK/IFI/119mins)
Directed by Ben Wheatley. Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Elizabeth Moss, Luke Evans, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Dan Renton Skinner, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith.
It’s a droog-eat-dog world when we first meet Tom Hiddleston’s Dr. Robert Laing, reduced to living off his questionable wits after the experimental high-rise community he’s moved into goes feral. From the very poor at the bottom to the very wealthy up in the penthouses, not even the great architect behind it all (Jeremy Irons) is able to maintain any kind of law and order once the water, food and electricity dries up and the crazy kicks off.
Pretty soon, it’s cabin fever, on every level. A towering infernal, if you’ll excuse the genius pun.
As various characters at various points of insanity battle for control or simply some food, shelter or violent sex, our anti-hero tries to remain calm. Even when he’s clubbing a man to death in the abandoned supermarket, as the two desperate scavengers fight over that last tin of grey paint.
THE VERDICT: There’s something about a movie that simply doesn’t try to please a mainstream audience that you have to admire.
Think of Lenny Abrahamson’s ‘Frank’, of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Tideland’, Richard Ayoade’s ‘The Double’, or the entire works of Gasper Noé. It would be so easy for these filmmakers to give us kittens in a boot. Instead, they’re rather give you a boot being slowly forced into a kitten. Whilst Scott Walker goes full banshee on the soundtrack and the lighting technician has a stroke.
‘High-Rise’ is one such film.
It’s all very dark and disturbing, as you would expect from the pen of J.G. Ballard (the late British sci-fi novelist who also gave us Crash and The Drowned World), and the director, Ben Wheatley (the acclaimed British filmmaker who gave us ‘Kill List’ and ‘Sightseers’, amongst others).
Producer Jeremy Thomas – who became friends with Ballard after steering David Cronenberg’s 1996 adaptation of ‘Crash’ – had spent almost ten years trying to get High-Rise to the big screen before Wheatley and his screenwriter wife Amy Jump decided that J.G.’s 1975 novel might just be the challenge they were looking for after 2013’s period romp, ‘A Field In England’.
The resulting film has divided critics somewhat, being a stubbornly difficult watch. Dave Fanning hated it with a passion – which some smart people will take as a recommendation.
Gotta say, it eventually bugged the s**t out of me too. Which some idiots will take as a recommendation.
Review by Paul Byrne

Review by Paul Byrne
  • filmbuff2011

    Ben Wheatley’s fifth feature High-Rise sees the talented, offbeat director tackle another writer’s source material for the first time with his screenwriter and wife Amy Jump. It’s a typically distinct film from one of the UK’s most interesting directors working at the moment.

    Opening with Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) contemplating the events that just transpired while eating a dog (!), the story flashes back to Robert’s arrival at his new home: a tower block a short distance from London designed in the Brutalist fashion commonly built around the 1950s and 1960s (e.g. as featured in A Clockwork Orange). Its architect designer Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives in the penthouse on the 40th floor at the very top, complete with its own garden and a horse. The tower block is a self-contained world unto its own: complete with its own leisure facilities and a bland supermarket on the 15th floor. The class structure also seeps down from the top to the bottom. Those at the top are the really wealthy while those at the lower floors are less so. Robert is somewhere in between on the 25th floor. He flirts with neighbour Charlotte (Sienna Miller), who is also engaged in flirtatious behaviour with Robert’s immediate neighbour Richard (Luke Evans). Richard’s wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) is pregnant, but that doesn’t stop her flirting with Robert either. Richard is an aspiring documentary filmmaker whose sees potential in the class struggle on display in the tower block. The frequent power cuts on the lower floors force him to take action and rebel against the higher flowers. Anarchy descends on the tower block, but the laconic Robert decides that he will just sit back, put on his war face and get involved…

    High-Rise is based on J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel – this is the Ballard of Crash, not Empire Of The Sun. It’s a typically oblique story which has been a passion project for producer Jeremy Thomas for quite some time. It was deemed unfilmable for a long period, but if anyone can make it work then it’s the team of Wheatley and Jump. The difficulty arises in just how to portray this world of order amid chaos – and vice versa. Also, how do you translate Robert’s character to the screen, making him a willing participant and not just a curious observer to all that is happening around him? It’s a brave move for Wheatley and Jump to take it onboard and the film is a resounding success because of their bold confidence in wrestling with Ballard’s words. This is a knowing satire of class values and mores, broken down into basic instincts such as envy, jealousy, lust and the constant desire for power. It’s slyly amusing and doesn’t take any of its characters seriously. What Wheatley is trying to do is point out that people are people are ultimately self-serving and do what is good for them, not for others. At least in this world anyway.

    It’s a fabulously designed world too, capturing those natty 70s features like sideburns and bland earth tones like browns and yellows that were somehow popular during that era. Mark Tildesley’s production design is eye-catching, Laurie Rose’s cinematography is luminous and Clint Mansell’s score is spot-on for this era. The performances are also top-notch, with Hiddleston adding more fire to recent suggestions that he would like to be the next James Bond. Evans, who can often be bland, is a force of nature here. Irons, Miller and Moss round out a strong supporting cast. High-Rise may be too Brutalist to appeal to everyone, but this reviewer found it to be consistently entertaining, very funny and distinct enough to stand out from the rest of this month’s releases. Wheatley is to be congratulated for delivering a message about the values of conformity, rather than non-conformity. Top-floor filmmaking. ****