In a dystopian version of the 1970s, Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a new apartment in a high-rise complex. Laing soon learns that social classes play a large part of life in the building, with the architect of the project, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) living on the 40th floor, his apartment complete with a huge and beautiful garden. When the power goes out on the lower floors of the high rise, order soon breaks down in the building, leading to chaos.
Based on the novel of the same name by JG Ballard, High-Rise has lingered in development hell for decades, and was once considered to be unfilmable. Enter director Ben Wheatley, who signed on to the project in 2014 and, with a CV that includes the surreal A Field in England, comedy Sightseers and horror flick Kill List, Ben Wheatley may just be the man to being the unfimeable to the screen.
The cast is led by Tom Hiddleston, who does a great job of seemingly staying sane when all around him are losing their heads, although he does allow the character’s cool mask to slip from time to time. Laing is also the outsider in the film and, in allowing us to see the high-rise through his eyes, Hiddleston allows the audience to understand this odd, constructed concrete world as much as possible. Sienna Miller plays chatterbox and floozy Charlotte, Reece Shearsmith lurks in the shadows, but has a couple of good one liners and Jeremy Irons lingers above all as Anthony Royal in a restrained but showy role. Luke Evans perhaps gets the chance to show off most in High-Rise, going from exuberant father to a cold man bent on revenge to a dancing lunatic often in the space of minutes.
Amy Jump’s screenplay carefully underlines the social mores keeping society in the high rise in order, then allows them to fall into chaos with one simple event; the loss of electricity. Class and standing are issues the plague the residents, but it is only when they are seemingly given the freedom to raid the supermarket, wash their clothes in the pool or loot the gym, that they do so. That said, the chaos that the high rise descends into is often manic in its depiction of society out of whack. The film gets seriously caught up in the depravity for about 30 minutes, seemingly with no desire to keep the story moving, which quickly leads to audience fatigue.
As director, Ben Wheatley has made High-Rise a period piece as well as a retro-futuristic film filled with beautiful people doing awful things to one another. The performances are strong throughout, with Luke Evans getting the chance to show off the most, but Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss and Jeremy Irons all coming off strong. The trouble arises in the choice to not streamline the film; the editing is often wonderful – underlining the manic air of the building – but it is also the biggest problem with the film, as scenes are allowed to go on too long without being cut, and some should have ended up on the cutting room floor entirely. It’s not that High-Rise is unflimable, as was claimed, but it needed a tighter hand in the edit, and less indulgence in the beauty of carnage.
In all, High-Rise is truly a film of two halves; the first hour rockets by, but as soon as chaos descends the pacing of the film drops and the carnage feels a little indulgent and overly long. The performances are strong however, with Hiddleston, Irons and Evans standing out.