Based on yet another "unfilmable" novel by J. G. Ballard, High-Rise has been a film that many people have been trying to bring to the screen for decades. The man who finally succeeded where others failed is director Ben Wheatley, helped along by a screenplay by Amy Jump.
The plot sees a man named Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moving into a modern apartment block (aka a fancy block of flats) in 1970s England. The block is full of amenities and luxuries, but only those higher up in the building get to access more of the good stuff, turning the whole building into an obvious microcosm of society. And when people start to upset the order of how things should be, it's not long until the whole environment devolves into an anarchic mix of violence, debauchery, and death.
The thing that threw me about this film is how quickly viewers are thrown into some outright strangeness. Even the earlier scenes, which are supposed to be showing normal life in the apartment block, are just plain odd. And then things go from 0-100 very quickly, with oddness turning into the bizarre and then the absolutely insane. I kept wondering what I had missed, or what scenes had been excised in the editing process and never put back where they should have been. Then I stopped wondering about it. I just started to enjoy the atmosphere of the film, immersing myself in the environment, which is when I started to appreciate everything that this had going for it.
First of all, even by his own standards, this is impressively ambitious directing from Wheatley, managing to make the central building seem both like an entire city and also like a horribly claustrophobic cocoon, depending on just how well things are going. He also keeps all the character shots and cinematography in the strange retro-futuristic style of the apartment block.
The script by Jump may be a muddled mess at times, and that's hard to deny, but it's also full of cutting lines, great individual moments, and a smoke-filled, languid, atmosphere that becomes hazier and hazier as the minds of the central characters start to fray and break.
Then you have the cast. Hiddleston is great in his role, barely holding on to his precarious position in the building from the very beginning, and there are also fantastic performances from Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans, Peter Ferdinando, and Jeremy Irons, the latter as the architect of the building and the top resident (of course). Sienna Miller, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, and Reece Shearsmith also lend solid support, each one playing a memorable resident who may be for or against Hiddleston's place in the heirarchy of the structure.
This isn't a film to watch if you want an easy ride, and it's not even one to watch if you need something that makes sense throughout. It's a dazzling, dizzying, strange experience. Almost like leaning over the top balcony of a tower block and looking down through a kaleidoscope. While other people throw protesting victims over to meet their gravity-hastened demise. And of course I mean that as a compliment.
Get the disc here.
American friends can pick it up here.