The poster for Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise looks like one of those cheesy, big budget all-star cast American movies that used to be made in the 60s and 70s. (Things like Hotel in 1967 or the Airpot movies.) But High-Rise is much better than that. Based on J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel, it is set in a 40-story high-rise apartment building. It is such an ugly concrete monster, a creation of production designer Mark Tildesley. The main character is handsome Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston). We first meet him just as he’s about to cook his German shepherd for consumption. Yes, High-Rise is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned! What went wrong? Flashback three months. Laing moves in his new apartment on the 25th floor. Soon he meets Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), a single mother with whom he soon starts having sex. He then becomes a friend with Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a violent and unpredictable TV producer, and Helen (Elisabeth Moss), Richard’s pregnant wife. One day, Laing is invited to visit the architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) in his 40th floor domain. It has a spacious rooftop garden (or is it a park?). There is a tennis court and Royal’s wife riding on her white horse (everything is white. She’s dressed in white, sleeps in a white bed and has a maid, also dressed in white, who bitterly cleans the poop the wife’s white dog left on the white carpet). At some point things start falling apart. The elevator stop working, and Laing himself is caught in between two floors. The garbage chute is overflowing and is not being cleaned. Neighbours are getting obsessed with the garbage chute. Power failure? Time to throw a party in the hallways. Did you say a party? Why not orgies in the hallways. Dr. Laing tells a resident, Munrow (Augustus Prew), that he’s dying. But it’s a cruel lie that the doctor told for revenge. Later, during one of those orgies, Munrow jumps from a 37th floor balcony and lands on a car in the parking lot (in what must be one of the slowest slow-motion I’ve ever seen in a film). The suicide is not reported to the police and his body is later found in the garbage pile. The high-rise is becoming a danger zone. People and animals are getting killed. There is literally blood in the aisle at the grocery store where you they beat you up for a can of paint. This hellish film is being orchestrated matter-of-factly by director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump, whose snappy one-liners makes easier for us to swallow all this violence and depravity. I must admit that I enjoyed the first half better than the second. But Wheatley has quite an appealing sence of style and fun. It’s something he does quite well in the editing room. And Hiddleston is happy to play along. There is that one moment when Laing is asleep and dreams he is dancing with a bunch of stewardesses. He’s having a grand old-time rolling those hips to the beat of the music. But I have to talk about Luke Evans giving what could be described as an over-the-top/take-no-prisonner performance. You may not agree with his approach, but it fits the command and the film perfectly. I think that High-Rise is best summed up by Toby, Charlotte Melville’s young son. As he looks into a kaleidoscope, Laing ask him “What can you see through that thing?”. He answers, “The future”. Scary thoughts!
Based on the novel by J.G. Ballard