High-Rise is a stylised Kubrickian dystopian imagining of J.G Ballard’s 1975 novel from up and coming British director Ben Wheatley that plays on ideas of confinement, social structure, class warfare and sanity. High-Rise is a visually captivating film and for much of its runtime is a gripping allegory for the way we live our lives, shrunk down into a single high rise building in the 1970’s. The film perhaps fails to fully realise its ambition though, losing track of itself in a mess of style and editing. The film sits as a remarkable achievement with a clear message to the wider community about inequality and social upheaval from an exciting new director.
The untouchable Tom Hiddleston plays Laing as he moves into a new high rise building, designed by a visionary god-like architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons) as a new way of living. He quickly finds himself in the middle of battling residents as the richer upper floors mock those lower than them and the middle and lower floors rebel against power outages, limited access to communal spaces and resources as well as the disdain their are shown. The building quickly becomes Lord Of The Flies and where once cocktail soirees and children’s birthdays rang, orgies and blockades dominate.
High-Rise is as mentally abrasive as it is physically violent, Wheatley assaults the senses with electronic music, fast moving montages, contrasting minimalist and extravagant decoration and aggressive use of drugs, violence both sexual and otherwise and suicide. Harrowing visuals are often depicted with neutral or surreal qualities, often taking part off centre or incidentally as a character walks through a scene or in a drug fuelled state. It is hard not to see the influence of a film like A Clockwork Orange here with ultra violence, class struggle and some of Kubrick’s classic trademarks such as dehumanization, the glare camera angle, splitting the film in 2 distinct halves amongst others.
Ben Wheatley’s vision only falters when the film looks to compact too much information into the second half of the film. We are given a first half which clearly lays out the landscape and impending descent but are then sped past much of the intriguing decline into the depths of the crisis, just to then slow down again in order to reach the two hour runtime. This disconnect in the middle of the film hurts many of the more subtle changes that take place and much of the more in-depth social commentary Wheatley is looking to embed the movie with. The innocence and role of women and children is lost in the film in favour of more stylised shots in the back half and much of the symbolism and interplay of characters from the first half is forgotten or torn down in the madness of the back end. Even Tom Hiddleston, in another stellar performance, is lost in the film and his arc is made confused with more slick editing.
I really enjoyed High-Rise. The message, the acting and the visual craft were all captivating and engrossing. The film fails to reach the same peak as many of Wheatley’s influences however in part due to the disheveled second half of the film. The film however bodes well for the directors future and i’m sure repeat viewings of High-Rise will result in new interpretations as well as a greater appreciation of the visual intricacies on offer.