Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) lost his sister some months ago and he decided to make a big change in his life. He moves into the High Life, a self sufficient luxury condominium that is the brainchild of Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons). Everything is wonderful, at first, but the infrastructure of the building begins to fail and a class war erupts in the “High-Rise”
Director Ben Wheatley is not the kind of filmmaker that can be pigeon-holed as a niche director. His earlier films – “Kill List (2011),” “Sightseers (2012)” and “A Field in England (2013)” – are each unique with imaginative stories and dark, violent humor. “High-Rise” is no exception.
This is a dystopian tale that begins at the end. When Laing moves into the isolated-from-the world community, all earthly needs are seen to by the benefactor, Royal. As time goes on, with Laing’s behavior becoming more and more hedonistic in the constant party atmosphere, the infrastructure of the futuristic building begins to collapse.
This begins the war that will soon come to a head between the privileged Upper Floors inhabitants and the denizens on the Lower Floors, The surrealistic atmosphere of the film flows well with the strange story adapted from the J.G. Ballard 1975 novel, High-Rise by Wheatley’s collaborator Amy Jump.
Hiddleston and Irons are joined by superior cast, including Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss and James Purefoy. They and the rest of the supporting cast do fine fleshing out the very quirky residences of the building. The archaic story- it feels like it was written in the 1970s, makes its point early on – civilization is doomed – and keeps repeatedly making that point until the end. I got the point and give it a B-.
Wishing to 'invest in the future,' Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a luxury apartment on the outskirts of London. He meets Charlotte (Sienna Miller, "American Sniper"), a party girl single mom, when her champagne bottle falls from the balcony above as he sunbathes and begins to learn about the class structure and unspoken rules which govern the hermetic "High-Rise."
Filmmaking partners director/editor Ben Wheatley ("Kill List," "A Field in England") and writer/editor Amy Jump tackle J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel, but while the film is visually and aurally entrancing, the tale of a society reveling in its breakdown loses its focus, its central character's observational stance holding us back from emotional involvement.
Laing is well positioned on a floor high enough to mingle with the elite, but the first party he attends brings him into contact with denizens of lower floors, like Helen (Elizabeth Moss), the pregnant wife of documentarian activist Wilder (Luke Evans, "Dracula Untold"). While he's welcomed there, he's dissed as a dilettante by the wealthy, who cavort about in the French Court trappings of Louis the Sun King, the preferred style of building architect Mr. Royal's (Jeremy Irons) wife Ann (Keeley Hawes, "The Bank Job"). When power cuts begin to affect the lower floors, a revolution takes place, but instead of affecting change for the good, it sparks a dissolution of society.
There are many wonderfully weird and inspired observations here. The building's self-contained supermarket sells a guide to learning French, something its ornery checkout girl achieves as it's being ransacked. When the architect shows Laing the building's plans, Laing observes 'it looks like the unconscious diagram of some kind of psychic event,' prescient to be sure. As the building's denizens devolve into debauchery and mayhem, Wheatley employs Portishead's slowed down cover of Abba's 'S.O.S.' Many of his visuals recall Kubrick (the decadence of "Eyes Wide Shut," the sterility of "2001," the opulence of "Barry Lyndon," his film's Northern Ireland locations as eerily suitable as the London gasworks of "Full Metal Jacket"), yet the film has the surrealist tone of Buñuel.
There are also many, many parallels to "Snowpiercer," "High-Rise's" architect the brother to that film's engineer. But while Bong Joon-ho's protagonists were clearly drawn, Wheatley's is cryptic and where "Snowpiercer" built to a stunning finale, "High-Rise's" payoff isn't equal to its setup, despite a neatly executed jab at Thatcherism in its final scene. Wheatley's tremendously ambitious undertaking loses its grip on too many characters in its brilliantly executed world.
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