High-Rise FILM REVIEW

High-Rise

High-Rise-1

stars 3.5

Release: 18 March 2016
From: StudioCanal
Certificate: 15
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons.


 

A near decadent, overwhelming spiral into dystopian anarchy, Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s novel High-Rise is beautiful, superbly acted, and an utterly disjointed mess.

The film opens with Dr Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston, moving into the newly built high-rise designed by Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons). The luxury tower block has its own isolated community, and with all the facilities that its residents could ever need at their fingertips they become completely cut off from the outside world. Tensions begin to rise among the residents, though, as those occupying the lower floors feel that they are being oppressed by class injustices in the building, and, when the power is cut off, the high-rise dissolves from a utopian ideal into a dystopian nightmare as things spiral out of control and violence breaks out. It is at this point that the film begins to lose its focus.

Ballard’s novel has often been deemed “unflimable” in the past, but this hasn’t stopped husband-and-wife team Wheatley and Amy Jump from taking on the beast. The only problem is that they’ve taken Ballad’s story and turned it into a disjointed mess. While the film starts out having its focus on the class warfare between the residents, when the tensions between them boil over the narrative is practically thrown out the window in favour of anarchy.

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Of course, this confusing descent into chaos could have been intentional. Wheatley has often used violence and confusion to create a meaningful impression on the audience, and the tools he uses in High-Rise certainly reproduce a sense of confusion, anxiety and unease on-screen. In reality, the film goes from one unpleasant event to another with little so that it quickly becomes tedious. So much so, that it seems the narrative would have been stronger in the second half had it been possible to keep up with the unfolding chaos.

Visually, this film is a treat, especially for anyone nostalgic for the 1970s (when the book was written). The set design, the fashion, the hair, everything about the look of the film conspires not to merely evoke an idea of its setting but to perfectly embody it, transcribing the near-past seamlessly into the audience’s present consciousness. This is underscored by the tonally (and period!) perfect music of the film, the highlight of which was a cover of ABBA’s “SOS” by Portishead. It is worth wondering, however, how well these wonderful visuals and music helped the narrative of the film, or if, rather than helping, they merely contributed to its biggest failing.

The major problem with High-Rise is its inability to make its audience care for its characters. While the visuals help to enhance the experience of the film, it does distance the audience from being absorbed by the drama and the plight of the characters presented. This, of course, is as much a function of the detached protagonist Dr Robert Laing, and his being simultaneously in the thick of things and removed from it all. Characters and their stories flit on and off screen, either forgettable, hysterical, or uniformly despicable. There is, simply put, no one for the audience to empathise or relate with, and the self-serving relationships between characters do not provide much more.

Of course, this doesn’t diminish the cast’s excellent performances. Tom Hiddleston’s Dr Laing is a refined narrator for the onslaught on the luxury tower block, while Sienna Miller’s take on Charlotte, Dr Laing’s alluring neighbour, is striking. It is Luke Evans, though, who provides the most impressive performance as the alpha-male documentary filmmaker Wilder whose seething rage at his family’s low-rank within the high-rise helps to spark the civil war between the residents. He is charismatic as the disgruntled character, and his anger at the class situation fuels the film’s more intriguing scenes.

This is a film with all the components to be wonderful – and indeed, individually, the wonderful visuals, the excellent cast, the perfection of the score are just that. But when it comes to forming them into a cohesive whole, Wheatley falls short.

Review by Roxy Simons


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