HIGH-RISE (2016)



A Review by Adam Lovett

Director: Ben Wheatley

Starring:  Tom Hiddelston, Elizabeth Moss, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, James Purefoy, Peter Ferdinando


This hallucinatory societal allegory is savage visual poetry sure to repel some viewers. They don’t make them like this anymore. Not in the old fashion storytelling sense but something more cinematically experimental. Bold artistry that pushes the language of genre by connecting on a far more nerve twanging visceral level that abandons traditional narrative. Director Ben Wheatley (KILL LIST, SIGHTSEERS) makes HIGH-RISE a litmus test spiraling into a singular level of chaotic madness that demolishes equilibrium. I left the theatre shell shocked, numb with a feeling comparable to what a film like WAKE IN FRIGHT achieved.

The film begins with a Kubrick like symmetry of visual sterility and symphonic formalism before channeling avant-garde cinema history like the films of Ken Russell (THE DEVILS), David Cronenberg (SHIVERS, RABID) or Nicolas Roeg (DON’T LOOK NOW) – Roeg was originally tapped to adapt J G Ballard’s (CHILDREN OF MEN) cult novel back in the 1970’s when it was published. Tracking parallel, Clint Mansell’s essential score gradually goes from precise Bach like orchestration to something less restricted and traditional. The creative composition of Laurie Rose’s (KILL LIST) cinematography uses deliberate angles, in camera illusions and kaleidoscope eyes to sculpt metaphor and mood. Scenes like the slow motion suicide plunge or a textured montage to Portishead’s cover of Abba’s S.O.S. overwhelm in that way only transcendent cinema is capable.

The first thing that catches the eye is the wild retro production design. The sets, the costumes, the hair, the language all recall 1970’s science fiction with a twist. It’s LOGANS RUN meets OMEGA MAN architecture. This works beyond surface appeal, the back dating infers timelessness to the core themes of the story. The tenuous illusion of human civilization, the masks that thinly veil our species primal animalistic desires and the class divide where this multi-tiered brick structure is an ant-farm like microcosm of society.

As the film opens we taste the apocalyptic end game (Warning: It tastes like dog) before winding back 3 months. Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) has recently lost his sister and just moved in to his brand new apartment in the state of the art facility. A self contained High-Rise that houses the wealthy elite in its top floors, beneath them the working professionals and the low income housing below.

Tom Hiddleston as Laing, the new resident gives an elegantly smooth, slyly humorous and gracefully detached performance. Hints of Patrick Bateman sneak into the character which is not a bad thing. Hiddelston’s physical perfection both clothed and bare on display under the female gaze is gradually made inconsequential as the psychological breakdown of the buildings one stop satisfaction guarantee reveals the monster within. Lured to join the party upstairs Laing is easily seduced by single mother Charlotte played by Sienna Miller (FACTORY GIRL) with convincingly imbibed desperation and deluded beauty of youth.

Simultaneously seduced by the buildings many amenities and attractions Laing allows the buildings life force to consume him as it does all the residents. Royal (Jeremy Iron) reigns supreme above all, the visionary architect of the high-rise. An eccentric, isolated genius detached from the mundane as he attempts to engineer a single celled urban utopia. As expected Irons nails the brief but pivotal role convincingly injecting his own personality with that velvet voice.

The big surprise for me was Luke Evans (Dracula Untold) in the appropriately named role of Wilder, an insane character enveloped by our species primitive alpha imprinting. Evans has all the threatening savage volatility of Oliver Reed here. Typically loud mouthed and obnoxious, it’s the moments of seething silent presence in the frame that really made me sit up and take notice.

As Wilder’s neglected and abused wife Helen, Elizabeth Moss (QUEEN OF EARTH) continues to impress. Inhabiting the paradoxical trait of vulnerable strength, Helen is a heartbreakingly defeated victim but the script and Moss inflect the part with a worst case determination.

A film that’s tamed with each fresh viewing, there are many subtleties to the telling that emerge on repeat screenings. HIGH-RISE does occasionally get stuck between floors, some uneven pacing and the elusive lack of exposition could frustrate those unwilling to participate in the films more abstract motivations. That feeling of shell shock can only come once you surrender to the primal pulse, becoming another tenant consumed by the alchemy of the HIGH RISE.

Grade: 4/5

-FilmFrak Adam-

Watch the HIGH-RISE trailer


****SPOILER SCENE*** Portishead’s S.O.S.

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