One review

  • Tom Hiddleston is a fine specimen. Aesthetically, he’s perfect casting as Robert Laing in Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s satirical horror story, High-Rise. A modern-day Astaire in his inherent elegance, he serves as a gleaming focal point amidst the outbreak of chaos that devours the film. Laing does a lot of very bad things in High-Rise but, like American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, he’s endearingly aspirational and Hiddleston possesses an uncanny ability to temper a certain callousness and detachment into something charming rather than repulsive.

    Laing is one of the newest residents of a luxury tower designed by architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who resides on a top floor that also boasts a roof deck expansive enough for sheep and horses to roam. Wheatley and his production team present viewers with other impressive interiors – the obscenely pristine aisles of the 15th floor supermarket, the glass elevator with its infinite reflections – that chafe with the concrete columns. From the outside, the tower resembles an object of blunt brutality…or an inescapable prison of class systems and divides.

    Royal intended the tower to be a self-contained paradise, a social experiment with a specific delineation of the classes. The elite live on the upper floors, the debt-ridden live in the shadowy lower floors. Laing is the man in the middle, on the 25th floor, ambitious enough to score a personal meeting with Royal but accessible enough to bond with lower floor dwellers Richard Wilder (an aggressively loutish Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife, Helen (Elisabeth Moss). Laing will eventually bed Helen, but first he dallies with upstairs neighbour Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), a bohemian single mother who is also the object of Wilder’s lusty affections.

    Regardless of class, life in the tower is dominated by an endless stream of parties that unsurprisingly devolve into orgies, fist fights and even a suicide. Tensions escalate when the lower classes revolt after suffering power cuts and being banned from the building’s swimming pool. Outright class warfare soon erupts and the high-rise is awash in blood, trash and broken bodies. Wheatley brings a remarkable energy and style to the debauchery and increasingly grisly and reprehensible mayhem, but he is so interested in the unfolding anarchy that he sacrifices narrative cohesion. One never truly comprehends the tilt from relative stability to destruction and the majority of the characters remain ciphers. This includes Laing who is meant to be the most dangerous of them all, a man who simply and unquestioningly adapts to the world falling around him.

    Though High-Rise eventually crumbles under the weight of its own creative folly and willfully unsubtle rendering of Ballard’s themes, it is nevertheless replete with aural and visual delights. For starters, there’s the fantastic all-strings version of ABBA’s “SOS” by Portishead. A key character’s death is conveyed via a kaleidoscope, another character enters a party on a white horse, and there’s the recurring image of skin being peeled off a human skull. Then there’s a hallucinatory scene of Hiddleston dancing with air stewardesses that makes no sense in the narrative scheme, but is a wonder to behold.

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