Director: Ben Wheatley.
Screenplay: Amy Jump.
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Reece Shearsmith, Sienna Guillory, Peter Ferdinando, Enzo Cilenti, Augustus Prew, Dan Renton Skinner, Stacy Martin, Tony Way, Neil Maskell, Victoria Wicks, Bill Paterson.
“There’s no food left. Only the dogs. And Mrs. Hillman is refusing to clean unless I pay her what I apparently owe her. Like all poor people, she’s obsessed with money”
Having established himself as a director for the watching with the darkly disturbing Kill List and blackly funny Sightseers, Ben Wheatley continued to explore dark themes with his modestly budgeted A Field in England. Now, though, it’s apparent that he’s been afforded more money and allowed to work on a grander scale with more established actors. That said, the style and approach to High-Rise still retains that Wheatley edge.
Physiologist, Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a new apartment in a luxury tower block that is insulated from the outside world. It has been designed by Architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) and operated to provide it’s affluent tenants with all the conveniences and commodities that modern life has to offer. However, when the infrastructure fails and tensions between the lower and upper floors escalate, the residents become violent and the situation spirals out of control.
Based on the 1975, J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, High-Rise is a provocative exploration of the human psyche when manipulated within a socioeconomic environment. A film adaptation nearly came to fruition in the 1970’s with Nicolas Roeg. A later attempt by Cube director Vincenzo Natali also fell through before it, eventually, became a project that Ben Wheatley was interested in. Admittedly, it’s a book I haven’t read but from what I gather, Wheatley has captured the source materials ferocious and provocative commentary on capitalism and the social constructs therein. Not surprisingly, class division is at the forefront with the ones on the lower level dreaming of more money to enable a move to a higher floor while the rich, aristocrats look down on them with their pompous superiority. A permeating feeling of dread overhangs the proceedings and an almost claustrophobic atmosphere pervades this ruthless and mistrusting insular society. Like all commentaries on class struggle, there’s a hierarchy at work and with it comes a darkness that results in disharmony among the residents; it begins with the drowning of a dog in the communal swimming pool while it’s owner – a narcissistic actress – grieves while watching herself in the mirror. Before long, drugs, booze and debauchery lead to paranoia before Anarchy eventually ensues. The problem is, it takes over an hour in this capitalist cauldron before the class divide implodes and the “very unhappy bunnies bouncing about” resort to barbarism. That said, Wheatley employs an offbeat, black sense of humour which saves the film from becoming overly depraved and there are welcome moments of surrealist beauty and some genuinely striking imagery.Despite it’s fragmented plot, I admired Wheatley’s ability to imbue the whole affair with a revolutionary spirit and the clever and succinct parting shot of an overheard radio broadcast of the tyrannical words of the Iron Bitch, Margaret Thatcher, and her hatred of the working class… “Where there is state capitalism there will never be political freedom“. It’s an ambitious project from Wheatley and it’s material that you can’t help but feel wouldn’t be out place in the hands of Stanley Kubrick but it lacks an urgency and can sometimes stumble towards it’s conclusion. When all is said and done, though, there is much to admire here and I didn’t find it as bad as many critics have claimed. It left me with echoes of a contemporary A Clockwork Orange.
Trivia: The film includes two interpretations of the ABBA song “SOS” – one by the film’s composer Clint Mansell and the other by Portishead. “SOS” was released in 1975. The same year as J.G. Ballard’s novel.