High-Rise | Ben Wheatley | UK | 2016 | 119 minutes
Edwanike Harbour did not care much for this adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel by Ben Wheatley (A Field in England, Kill List).
You would think a project with Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Moss, and Jeremy Irons would have a lot of cinematic promise. Actors with this kind of star power can afford to be more selective about which roles they take. I cannot figure out what possessed them to appear in this flaming dung pile of a movie. Children’s Christmas pageants have been better executed. Read on if you must, but I watched High-Rise so you don’t have to.
The premise behind this monstrosity is not unlike Joon-Ho Bong’s 2013 Snowpiercer. Instead of a train, the film takes place inside of a post-modern style high rise where the wealthiest of the residents live at the top and the plebeians live in the lower levels. The setting is in 1970’s Great Britain, so the social commentary on Thatcher’s England is not lost on anyone. You are rather beaten about the skull with said commentary over and over. Based on a novel by J.G. Ballard (Empire of the Sun, Crash), High-Rise portrays what happens when the dynamics of inequality start to set in and chaos and destruction quickly become the rule rather than the exception.
The architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) does everything by design so nothing happens on accident not unlike many of the structural inequalities of our own capitalist system. The high rise itself has a center or that looks like a mandala, which is somewhat foreboding of things to come. Neurologist Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) has recently moved to the 25th floor which places him just smack dab in the middle class of the high rise.
The film opens in the midst of Lord of the Flies-type chaos before flashing back three months prior to a more serene, idyllic time. We see the elites having a ball which harkens back to the opulence of the French Monarchy. Newcomer Dr. Laing was invited to a party but he still hadn’t quite figured out how the class dynamics work. Neighbors ridicule him for showing up out of costume and bringing “cheap” champagne. You really don’t get the sense that he is pining to move up to the top level, but you do feel the individual striving to compete and be better than the next guy when you see him struggling to out row the man at the gym next to him. Laing says it take determination to go against the current. Indeed it does as we watch the residents descend into madness.
The top floor elites are not the only residents who throw a killer party. Residents on the lower floors have their fun as well but it tends to be more drug and booze-fueled revelry. What better way to ignore how the ruling class has screwed you over than to throw a rager? Soon after, the lights and water start to be shut off for those on the lower floors while the top floor residents live the life of Riley. Anyone who doubts the utility of public employees should see what happens when you begin to gut their salary and benefits. Once the basic necessities of life become scarce, hell breaks loose as people literally eat dogs to survive.
As mentioned earlier, the high rise itself was designed to have a consciousness and the building becomes a menacing character as time goes on when people have lost the ability to function in a civil manner. It sticks out of the ground like a barren tree as we see two other high rises being constructed in the background. The greed and instinct to survive turns every one into back into the most primal beasts ruled by the reptilian centers of their brain. Unfortunately, this is pretentious tripe masquerading as art and it is utterly boring and silly.
There is nothing redeemable about this movie. The sad reality is the concept itself does not wade into new territory. We get it. Class warfare is upon us. Somewhere along the horizon we are headed for an apocalyptic, dystopian future where the rich will eat the poor, or maybe it’s the other way around? Yes. We are an ever growing population competing for an ever decreasing amount of resources. The score consists of ABBA’s S.O.S. in different musical styles, which continues to be right on the nose. Subtlety and nuance are virtues of solid film making and this concept seemed to pass by director Ben Wheatley (A Field in England, Kill List) this time around.
If you watch this movie after reading this, all I can say is: you have been warned. Do yourself a favor and stick with Lord of the Flies, Snowpiercer, or even Peter Greenaway’s, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, which is by far a superior take on Great Britain’s Thatcher era.
Check out the other Missed Madison Film Festival reviews for Tuesday, January 24: