UK Release Date: 18th July 2016
Runtime: 118 minutes
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Reece Shearsmith
Synopsis: Anarchy ensues in an apartment block as class war erupts between the opulent upper classes of the higher floors and the cash-strapped troubles of those who live nearer to the ground.
When I first saw High-Rise on its cinema release back in March, I was a little disappointed. Ben Wheatley’s latest film came across as opaque and frustrating in how the chaos of the final act obscured the class war message. Towards the end of the review, I noted that High-Rise might be a film that “rewards multiple viewings”. Now that the film is out on Blu-ray, that has proven to be true. The second time around, this was a thrilling ride of a movie.
Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) movies into the eponymous structure, designed by architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons). It quickly becomes clear that an obvious social hierarchy separates the wealthy occupants of the higher floors from the poor families who live at street level. Laing finds himself acting as a bridge between the two extremes, befriending Royal and forming a relationship with Charlotte (Sienna Miller), who lives a few floors above. He is also friendly with filmmaker Wilder (Luke Evans) and his wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss), who live with their children on one of the lower floors. When all hell breaks loose and class war erupts, Laing must find out where he sits.
High-Rise is a remarkably ordered movie about anarchy. Thanks largely to the icy detachment of Tom Hiddleston’s central performance, the film is able to maintain a safe distance from much of the carnage, depicting the breakdown of society from a safe vantage point. The third act debauchery is compelling in the same way as the conclusion to Cronenberg’s Shivers, but Wheatley also finds time to take stock and shed light on discussions between the two sides of the class conflict.
On a second viewing, this class war at the heart of High-Rise shows its hand far more clearly. James Purefoy drips with malice as he strategises for those on the upper floors, whilst Luke Evans is tremendously bullish in pushing forward the agenda of the oppressed masses living lower down, deprived of power so that excruciatingly luxurious parties can be held further up. Jeremy Irons, meanwhile, does incredibly complex work as the architect who seemingly rues the constructed hierarchy of his creation. He veers from a liberal who wants to create a change in society to a sinister manipulator determined to preserve his own position.
But at the centre of it all is Hiddleston. He finds real depth in detachment as Laing, essentially taking a self-sufficient step back as soon as the violence erupts. Hiddleston’s gradual descent into insanity, ultimately referring to himself in the third person, is played perfectly, unfolding in the background as madness and murder erupts all around him. Scenes in which he romances Elisabeth Moss’ character in their own tranquil world, away from the rest of the chaos, are surprisingly touching. It’s a performance of immense control.
High-Rise remains a lesser Wheatley work, but the ambition of its script cannot be faulted and neither can the impressive visual style. Working from a much higher budget than usual, Wheatley creates angular, modern hallways that are quickly transformed from clean and clinical to brutalised and battered when society implodes. This is a film that doesn’t always maintain the tension and suspense that it needs, but there’s a deliciously dark sense of humour at play and an interesting perspective provided by Hiddleston’s aloof presence. It’s not a masterpiece, but High-Rise is a complex, if scrappy, delight.
Not all that much on offer here. There’s a commentary track, interviews with cast and crew and a short featurette about adapting Ballard, which mostly just recycles clips from the interviews.
Pop or Poop?
High-Rise yields fresh surprises and new depths on a second viewing, with Blu-ray providing the perfect style for Wheatley’s unique visual approach to adapting JG Ballard’s world for the big screen. Tom Hiddleston excels at the film’s centre, ably supported by the likes of Jeremy Irons. The social commentary is rich and Wheatley does a great job at finding moments of calm among the carnage to give his characters room to work their magic.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
High-Rise is available on Blu-ray now courtesy of Studiocanal.