High-Rise shares a lot of commonalities with Snowpiercer (2014). Both see the downtrodden rising up against the rich and oppressive. Both are set in a dystopian version of Earth. And both are brutally dark and anarchic. But whilst Snowpiercer builds to a satisfying and spectacular close, High-Rise stumbles in its third and final act where at times it feels as though narrative clarity is sacrificed for pomp and style.
It’s a busy sort of film, quickly moving, ever-evolving (and devolving), with lots of parts moving in and out of view. It’s the adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s book of the same name that was supposedly impossible. Parties, sex, violence, 18th century costumes, retro-future stylings; there’s lots going on, and it does get a little overwhelming, yet for the first hour or so of the film – despite the surrealism and anarchism – it’s all actually handled quite elegantly by British director Ben Wheatley.
We’re introduced to the ever-bonkers world of High-Rise through the eyes of Laing (Tom Hiddleston). The towering building, home to residents rich and poor, seems to have it all. A gym, squash court, swimming pool and a non-stop social calendar. Sadly it’s also prone to regular power outages and the odd murder. Still, with all the amenities that you might possibly need, its residents detach from the outer world, secluded from greater society, law, and increasingly from each other. Social climber Laing falls in with his neighbour from the floor above Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and her friend Wilder (Luke Evans), but at the same time gets a foot in with the building’s architect and owner of the penthouse suite, Royal (Jeremy Irons). Whilst the building falls to unrest under the increasing pressures of the social divide, Laing slips into a chaotic state of mind, and Wilder sets out to put an end to the atrocities of the rich, and specifically those of Royal.
The film’s anarchic spirit is epitomised by Luke Evans’ performance, and his character Wilder. Wild by name, wild by nature. His crazed romp through High-Rise is gripping, disturbing, and frankly a lot more interesting than Laing’s arc. He represents the downtrodden side of the class divide, the side most relatable, and whilst his methods are most certainly to be frowned upon, his complexities make him a compelling piece of the puzzle as the film progresses. Laing on the other hand is a more difficult character to judge. Tom Hiddleston plays him with a sophistication that might suggest he belongs with the upper class, yet there’s more going on beneath the surface than meets the eye. He’s intriguing, certainly, but I’m not sure that I really found myself rooting for him.
From the lush top floor penthouse, to the straight modernist lines of the middle floors, the design of the building itself is quite something. It’s a character as much Laing, Royal or Wilder. It’s the physical expression of the class system, the catalyst for violence, death and darkness. It’s a confusing world we live in. High-Rise won’t make much sense of the confusion, but it’ll at least get you thinking about it.
Rating (out of 5):