Brilliantly strange, and strangely...yeah it's pretty damn strange. Embrace the madness, though, and it's one hell of a ride.
Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a dark, disturbing, funny, and consistently surreal experience. It manages to balance intelligent social commentary with outlandish action, without losing sight of its principle purpose: to entertain. Best viewed in a slightly detached way, perhaps, High-Rise can be a cutting piece of clever filmmaking if you focus hard on the right bits and watch it a few times – but it is definitely an enjoyable film from start to finish.
The film follows Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) as he moves into a newly built high-rise building, designed to be largely self-contained – it includes a supermarket and a swimming pool, and we rarely see any of the characters living outside the high-rise. The building is separated from top to bottom, with the rich living above the poor, and one’s social standing being determined by what floor they live on. You’d expect the film to follow a certain trajectory given its premise, but as Ben Wheatley’s creation unfolds, it explores much stranger, more inexplicable events, including but not limited to orgies, hardcore dentistry, violent altercations over who owns paint, and an orchestral rendering of ABBA’s S.O.S.
The whole thing is brilliantly put together. Hiddleston is joined by Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, and Luke Evans, who all give excellent performances. Miller does well with a character afforded more screen-time than some of her others, giving her the chance to actually flesh out her role. Irons and Hiddleston provide, in their own thoroughly mad way, the films more consistent source of grounding, with Hiddleston in particular controlling the screen whenever he is present, and serving as an engaging protagonist. Luke Evans, though, stands out beyond the rest of the cast. He goes from a bit handsy to full-blown insanity as the film progresses, his particular brand of charm and violence – and then just violence – pushing some of the film’s more gruesome aspects. He operates as the darkest microcosm of what Wheatley tries to convey in High-Rise.
Acting aside, Wheatley’s direction is superb. Disgusting scenes are framed in a way that makes them seem almost beautiful, the film’s breakneck descent into chaos is actually one of perfect control – Wheatley never lets any moment get away from him, reigning in the madness, or looking away from it, or speeding it up as necessary to ensure that it never becomes tedious, that it is always entertaining.
High-Rise is a film that is dripping with ideas, the kind that you could break down into lots of little, meaningful parts, if you so wished. It is also a film that you can watch without any real thought, and enjoy it because it looks cool, because it has a kickass soundtrack, and because Tom Hiddleston’s in it. But as well as that, the film’s ideas are laced through it in such a way that, even if you aren’t paying any attention, they’ll bleed into your view without you necessarily realising; it’s this that makes it a great film, that makes it one of those films that you know is excellent even if you don’t quite know why.
High-Rise (2015), directed by Ben Wheatley, is distributed in the UK by StudioCanal. Certificate 15.