Review: High Rise
PLOT: A young doctor (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a sprawling high-rise which operates under a rigid social hierarchy, with the top floors being home to the elite, while lower floors house the working class.
REVIEW: Ben Wheatley's HIGH RISE is a daring choice to help kick-off the Toronto International Film Festival's new platform series. A rather high-brow selection of films, the outrageousness of Wheatley's new film likely would have been an easier fit in the Midnight Madness series, as evidenced by the rather lukewarm critical reaction following its Sunday night premiere. A mix of black humour, social commentary and violence, HIGH RISE is a challenging film at best and certainly not easy to categorize, especially at TIFF. Still, being based on a J.G Ballard novel (with one of his books being the basis of David Cronenberg's CRASH)I have a feeling director Wheatley's not overly concerned with appealing to the mainstream.
It's always seemed to be that Wheatley - if he wanted - could be the next Edgar Wright but based on his filmography it seems that Wheatley's hellbent on forging his own identity. Whatever you think of his work, it can't be argued that there's no one out there like him. His films thus far have shown Wheatley's filmic influences to be distinctly British, with past riffs on sixties "kitchen sink melodramas", Hammer horror, and others. HIGH RISE continues that tradition with it being highly evocative of the work of Ken Russell, particularly the hysteria of THE DEVILS and the style of his The Who musical TOMMY. Marrying this with a retro-futuristic approach (the future as imagined circa-1975) HIGH RISE is a highly original work with a sense of style that's often dazzling and a palpable sense of energy.
Tom Hiddleston is particularly effective as Wheatley's leading man. Adopting a somewhat passive energy, he feels like the perfect emasculated British seventies lead, with his energy running in direct contrast to Luke Evans, who channels Russell-lead Oliver Reed as the leader of the building's working class contingent. Immaculately attired, Hiddleston looks like a Saville Row model but his deliberate vacant-ness adds a unique flavour to the part. He's absolutely ideal even if his fanboys fans may be put off by him being so passive, perfectly evidenced by a scene where Sienna Miller's next-door temptress suddenly gets bored in the midst of their love-making and then sends him home, which he can only respond to with a stammer.
By contrast, Evans is a destructive force of nature. Sporting mutton-chop sideburns, a pornstache and an imposing physique, he's the working man alpha male, with his permanently pregnant wife (Elisabeth Moss - adopting a convincing accent) staying home as he snorts blow and screws his way through the building. The two of them paired-up are like two sides of the same coin and both are ideally cast.
The rest of the cast is just as perfect, with Jeremy Irons (who Hiddleston looks like a younger version of) is the impotent architect with a vacuous wife (who has a horse parked on the roof) and people like James Purefoy and Reece Shearsmith stammering with the best of them as the de-sexualized higher classes (reminiscent of the intellectuals of John Boorman's ZARDOZ - likely also a massive influence here).
More than anything, HIGH RISE is a satire of the class-system in Britain, which is quite relevant now in North America with the one-percent American elite as oppressive as anyone. Given the heavy intellectualism on display, Wheately wisely keeps the film moving at a quick pace, with dazzling camerawork, a strong score by Clint Mansell (who memorably pays homage to his own work in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM in a party sequence) and occasional blasts of sex and gore to keep genre fans interested. The result is more satirical than frightening, with the notable exception of a brutal (off-screen) rape.
All that said, HIGH RISE is not the ideal TIFF movie as there's so much going on here that repeat viewings and the patience that comes from not having sat through multiple movies in a day are a necessity. It's too difficult a film to sum up in 140 characters on Twitter or even in a quickly written review like this. It needs thoughtful consideration, which will explain the mixed notices it's bound to receive. However, to me HIGH RISE is an exciting, dazzling piece of genre art and yet more evidence of Ben Wheatley's genius. I already know it's a good movie but after I see it a few more times I'll know if it's a great one.
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