High-Rise (Movie Review)

High-Rise (Movie Review)
8 10

PLOT: The assorted rich and poor tenants of a technocratic tower block begin to unravel after a sudden suicide is committed.

REVIEW: With a prolific half-decade of moviemaking that has yielded four wildly disparate but equally astounding results - DOWN TERRACE, KILL LIST, SIGHTSEERS and A FIELD IN ENGLAND - British director Ben Wheately again joins hands with fellow writing chum Amy Jump in the attempt to climb HIGH-RISE, the J.G. Ballard novel long thought to be inadaptable. Yet with a slew of jagged jump-cuts varnished by the high-gloss of the mise-en-scene, the trippy off-kilter foundation of HIGH-RISE slowly begins to reveal itself to be a grand statement, however tongue-in-cheek, on the erosion of social stratification and the unintended consequences therein. As high and low cultures clash, the opulent pitted against the oppressed, Wheatley satirically posits to the extreme what would happen if this all took place under one roof. In the end, what unfolds is a decadent devolvement of a society done in such an exaggerated manner that HIGH-RISE can only be construed, no matter how bizarre, as a spellbinding surrealist satire. Get there!

Welcome to 1970s London. On the outskirts of the city lies a towering 40-storey skyscraper, a totally self-contained unit equipped with all the commodities and convenience one could ask for: supermarkets, gyms, pools, restaurants, a schoolroom, etc. The place is the perfect specimen of elegance, yet also has a cold, sleek, multi-mirrored, museum-like comportment. Enter our main man, Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a recently divorced physiologist who's just moved onto the 25th floor of the High-Rise. Like the building itself, Laing too is a paragon of physicality, and like the building itself, his health will grossly deteriorate of the course of three incrementally debasing months.

As he first arrives, Laing encounters a slew of odd tenants. The building's reclusive designer, Royal (the unintelligible Jeremy Irons), keeps a horse and lawn-garden on the roof of the 40th floor. Dude's eccentric to say the least. Laing meets Charlotte (Sienna Miller), a resident trollop quick to the jump in the sack with any swinging dick, even to the chagrin of her genius teenaged son. It's at Charlotte's place that Laing meets Helen (Elizabeth Moss) and Wilder (Luke Evans), a pregnant couple dwelling on the lower floors of the complex. We gather soon enough that the building has been stratified between high and low classes: the rich atop, the poor below. And as they say, never the 'tween shall meet!

However, when a raucous party ends in a suicide jump from a lofty floor, that's precisely what happens. Not a single authority figure shows up to attend the death, and with this knowledge, this High-Rise quickly turns into a place with no law, no rule, no order, no moral or ethical compass whatsoever. The hoity-toity regality of the upper-floors soon comingle with the so-called squalor of the lower, and what synthesizes is a downward spiraling, quasi-ghettoized wasteland of sex and crime. An unkempt demilitarized zone. We're talking about a debauched, orgiastic display of abject hedonism. Shite gets foul, no matter how surreal and dreamlike the action increasingly becomes.

In terms of location and occupation, Laing serves as a conduit between both poles, doing his best to ferry the best and worst intentions of each class. Meanwhile, like his own conscience, the High-Rise itself begins to malfunction. Lifts jams, lights go out, garbage shoots back up. It's here where the main themes of the film are bandied. In blackly satirical way, Wheatley channels Ballard's stance of how ridiculous it is to fear the culture clash of high and low classes. The film lambastes the notion that, if the haves and have-nots were forced to cohabitate, a vile and debasing free for all - devoid or law and order - would inevitably result. The movie mocks, not supports, such a paranoid fear...taking it to such bizarre extremes that all but deflates the argument.

The bigger issue becomes, as a movie, what the stakes are beyond that. I can't tell. Because of this trippy, surreal quality, it's hard to identify what can be taken seriously. For instance, why can't anyone seem to leave the HIGH-RISE? Where the hell is this place? Does it actually exist? Is it some weird purgatorial fever dream Laing himself is imagining? Who knows. The sinister, almost supernatural undercurrent the film engenders somewhat detracts from the larger themes the narrative raises. In the end, you're left with less of a satisfying genre movie and more of a bleakly scathing indictment on the economic caste system a capitalistic society breeds. The heartless obduracy therein. The titular locale is designed and shot gorgeously by DP Laurie Rose (all of Wheatley's films), and has an eerily discordant score by Clint Mansell, replete with strange covers of Abba songs. These aspects reinforce the slightly canted quality of the overall film. Something feels constantly off. This extends to the performances as well, with Hiddleston's the most centered and even keeled of all. But even he as Laing can't escape the tumultuous tribalism the HIGH-RISE ends up housing. It's all so inescapable!

All things considered, HIGH-RISE is an elevated establishment indeed. Wheatley has an absolute blast entertaining the misguided theory that the rich and poor could never coexist without the utter disintegration of a function society. And not just a disintegration, but a violent vortex of ungoverned horror. As a satire taken to surrealist extremes, the movie nails the aimed target with is statement made. As an outright horror exercise, the result is a bit less effective. Yet with jarring pace, lurid temperament, pristine set design and credibly delivered performances, the overall result offers quite the deranged destination. Perhaps not everyone, but if you enjoy bearing witness to the wilting of a social fabric to the point of reaching irrevocably decadent chaos, most definitely give HIGH-RISE a tour. It's the seediest penthouse you'll ever visit!

Extra Tidbit: HIGH RISE is currently available via VOD, but will hit theaters May 13th.
Source: AITH



Latest Movie News Headlines