High-Rise


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.

Mark Walker

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.

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49 Responses to “High-Rise”

  1. Great write up, Muckers! I’m sure I’ll give this a watch at some point.

    Boat Drinks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice! I liked this too, and rather than saying ‘despite its flaws’ I’ll say ‘because of its flaws’. The pacing’s awkward and it stutters along at times, there are bits that just plain don’t work for me, the actors sometimes don’t appear to be in tune with one another and there’s a certain kind of oddball TV sketch show/sitcom spirit to it (I’m thinking something like Chris Morris’s Blue Jam, or maybe even The League Of Gentlemen). I’m not surprised it has a lot of critics, and most of the criticism I’ve seen is valid, but I like the overall mess and all of the rough edges. I’ll watch it again one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not familiar with Blue Jam but I fucking adore The League of Gentlemen and the addition of Reece Shearsmith certainly treads that path a little. It was Kubrick that sprung to mind for me, though. It’s the type of film I could see him doing in his day.

      It’s not perfect by any means and there was a time where I thought I didn’t like it. Then a little shift seemed to happen. I stuck with it and when it was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The mark of a good flick in my eyes. I’ll certainly sit through this again. It warrants it.

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      • Ah I shouldn’t have said ‘TV’ – Blue Jam was Chris Morris’s late night radio show that was a precursor to his series ‘Jam’ on TV. It had all these little weird off-kilter sit-com scenarios…and like High-Rise it was hyper-realistic. I’m not sure why I thought about it, really, but sometimes I think Wheatley occupies a similar dark place to Morris!
        I’d love to have seen a Kubrick version of this. Can you imagine how he’d have shot the interiors? Although Wheatley’s DP does a good job.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aah. I remember seeing Jam on occasion but I never watched any of it. Sounds good, though.

        Kubrick could have nailed this. I’ve mentioned A Clockwork Orange but the orgy stuff also had an Eyes Wide Shut thing going on. That said, Wheatley shoots this more competently. A lot of scenes were actually quite stunning.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The body falling was pretty good!

        Liked by 1 person

      • That was great, man. I also enjoyed all the pastel colours of the 70’s cars and I thought the little dance number with air hostesses was a nice touch. To be fair, there plenty of nice touches throughout.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t wait to try this movie 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed this (the review and the movie), but then I’m something of a Wheatley apologist. It kinda lost its way towards the end as you’ve said (it looks like there’s been some cutting going on) but it looks amazing and the performances carry it through.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Mark. Yeah, it lost its way here and there but, like you, I found it to be stunningly shot and the black humour was very welcome indeed. I don’t know why the critics have be so harsh on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Looks pretty cool!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. J G Ballard is one of my favourite authors. He creates such excellent dystopias. I’ve read elsewhere that people are wondering why the people just don’t leave the building. In another Ballard book ‘Concrete Island’ about a dystopia on a traffic island, no one leaves there either. My thoughts are that Ballard is suggesting that we like these situations because we are all barbarians at heart. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m familiar with Ballard’s stuff, Ashley but he’s an author I’ve never tackled. I don’t really know why as his material definitely appeals to me. Looks like I’ll need to remedy that gap in my literature intake.

      I hope the film does the book justice for you. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it when you do.

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  7. Hmmmm, still something I am interested in seeing because the reviews are coming back so mixed on it. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, lots of mixed opinions on this, Zoë. Some have given it a very low rating but I just don’t think it deserves such criticism. Yes, it’s flawed and some parts don’t work but there’s still plenty to chew on.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I liked the cinematography and the music but the main character’s actions and intentions wee so puzzling I couldn’t connect with him at all. A shame because I thought the premise was very interesting

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a fair point, Sati. Laing certainly was the enigmatic type. I didn’t mind that too much, though. I actually liked that his character wasn’t explained and thought that Hiddleston’s charismatic presence was enough for me to invest. That aside, I’m with you on the music and cinematography. They were superb.

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  9. It’s a lot of the same stuff going on, over and over again. It doesn’t fully work, although I wish it did. Nice review Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It didn’t fully work. I agree there, Dan, but there was enough for me to invest and when all is said and done, I will probably invest in another viewing at some point too. Cheers man!

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  10. Can’t disagree with your conclusion mate, but I agree with you on most points. That quote at the top, that cracked me up. The whole attitude of the higher-class people had me in stitches

    Hehe, Iron Bitch. I like that. I also thought that quote was a nice touch, and it was what prompted me to re-watch the movie, though there are many reasons to give this at least two spins IMO.

    Why do you think they didn’t move out. That seemed to trouble most of those who disliked this film. I came up with my own little back-story but I’m interested in what others think. I also think Laing was insane before he even got there – near the beginning he is caressing the walls of the place in a very strange way… plus he stammers mightily when asked if he killed his family!

    Anyway, great post mate. I liked this a bit more than you but we are pretty close in how we saw it

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the Margaret Thatcher quote to round things off really hit the proper note for me. Not only was the film and great socioeconomic commentary but it was also a great sociopolitical commentary on the reign of Thatcher’s Britain in the 1970’s/80’s. That one quote gave the film a different interpretation that I never even considered while watching it.

      I’m with you on your Laing theory. His behaviour was quite strange in regards to the mention of his sisters death and his odd behaviour with the walls. I also think the cheese had probably slid off his cracker at one point in his life. I also seen that he was a man very much stuck in the middle of both classes and he wanted to belong somewhere. The status of the building itself seems to give him that – even if he still couldn’t quite fit in.

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      • I also didn’t consider it at all until the second watch, and even then I don’t know enough about UK politics. But, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but she said something along the lines of state-run capitalism won’t equate to freedom. Which seems totally backwards. And if you think of the high-rise as the state, everything is run by the one at the top. Or have I totally missed the point?

        ” the cheese had probably slid off his cracker”

        Never heard of that one before, what does that mean? Going insane?

        And I agree that he was stuck in-between the classes and wanted to belong to something, especially as he seems so disengaged when we see him at work

        This is such a great movie, so much substance, so much to talk about! Destined to be a classic IMO

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      • You got the point spot on, man. Thatcher was a cold hearted bitch in the 70’s/80’s Britain. She constantly shat on the working class and systematically crushed the trade unions of the workers and eradicated any small privileges they might have had. She was a total bitch and that message alone says it all. She strived to retain the position of the wealthy and caused a class war in Britain. Those on the lower levels of the high rise are, in fact, suffering at the hands of the capitalist hierarchy above them and as a result loose their freedoms and any sense of fairness. In fact, it’s a poignant message at this time as David Cameron is doing the exact same thing just now. This film has came at the right time and I Wheatley knows that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, I got it right! No wonder then that so many workers were striking at the time (according to Top Gear haha, my knowledge is limited).

        So Cameron is doing the same thing in the UK right now? Damn, that sucks. I hope it doesn’t end up as bad as it was in the 80’s

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      • I reckon Cameron is as bad as Thatcher (arguably worse). British child poverty is through the roof, immigrants get the blame for everything, disabled people are having their benefits cut which is leading to many deaths and we have foodbanks across the country. It’s even harder to stomach considering Scotland didn’t vote for Cameron or the conservatives yet we find ourselves governed by them. The sooner Scotland is independent, the fucking better.

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      • Arguably worse than Thatcher, damn that does not sound good. Child poverty through the roof, awful.

        Our gvmnt is not much better, arguably worse. Actually, nah it can’t be worse, especially if your current PM is worse than someone nick-named Iron Bitch!! I wouldn’t be happy either.

        Islamaphobia and racism in general is rife down here, and most people have no qualms telling you about it (or yelling), parties like ‘Reclaim Australia’ are popping up, saying no to ‘Sharia Law’, which of course is nothing like what was written thousands of years ago, y’know? Its like Chinese Whispers, and 2000 years later the ‘Sharia Law’ that these groups like to post on their facebook pages uses language that wouldn’t have been used back then!

        This country is also filled with fuckheads who blame everything on immigrants and Islam. We are also having disability pensions slashed

        I was going to ask you how you felt about Scottish independence but it seemed like a silly question hehe

        Sorry for the long arse reply, it is just very interesting hearing your viewpoints as a Scot, as opposed to me watching John Oliver or something

        Liked by 1 person

      • It sounds like you guys are going through the same shit. In fact, America and so many other countries worldwide seem to be in the same boat. Racism and Fascism is on the rise everywhere we look and it’s not good, man. I despair at the state of the world just now but I also take comfort in the fact, that this could also be a precursor to the end of capitalism. I’m a staunch anti-capitalist and it’s inevitable end could be closer than we think. It’s not, and never was, sustainable. That’s why I liked the message in High-Rise. The end of capitalism is often depicted as barbaric but that’s only the fear people have of knowing nothing else in their lives. Socialism will eventually prevail.

        As for Scottish independence, I was heart broken (and still am) that Scotland never took their chance in 2014. However, it’s ignited a political interest in people and I think Scottish Independence is now an inevitability also. Mark my words and watch this space brother. The “United Kingdom” is no longer United and it’s time is coming to an end. 🙂

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      • ” that this could also be a precursor to the end of capitalism”

        Oh god wouldn’t that be a dream come true!!

        Racism is awful here, not just against immigrants but worse is the racism aimed at Aboriginal people. They only make up 2% of the population, and almost everyone I know hates them. Just yesterday I was on the train and had a conversation with a couple of them who were a bit drunk, so they were talking loud…. everyone else on the train looked terrified. Because they were talking loud!

        “but that’s only the fear people have of knowing nothing else in their lives”

        Again, so spot on man. You are right, it never was sustainable. They essentially print money (or bonds or however the Federal Reserve does its business) and then wonder why the economy dies. We certainly seem to share the same political views. Man, now I really wanna watch High-Rise again with all this in mind! I think it’ll be my top film of the year. I need to re-watch The Witch though also

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s disgusting how minorities are treated in countries. If it’s not the Aboriginals, it’s the Maori or Native Americans. Tribal people totally shat on over the years. The same happened to the Scots hundreds of years ago. We were seen as savages and even the Roman’s built Hadrian’s wall to keep us out when they conquered England. It’s always the way when a culture is misunderstood. Anyway, I digress man. It’s a pleasure to speak with a comrade who shares the same political views.

        That said, I wasn’t overly keen on The Which’s message for similar reasons. It was a well made horror but its depiction of Paganism as an evil practice is all wrong. So many horrors have done this over the years simply because it’s a threat to Christianity. Paganism is actually a celebration of the earth and nature itself and Christianity actually stole much of it’s symbolism and ethos. Again, it about misunderstanding a culture or belief system.

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      • “its depiction of Paganism as an evil practice is all wrong”. Couldn’t agree more, I didn’t pick that up when I saw it last year but a very good point. I’ve always been very interested in Paganism and what it stood for. Now its practically dead isn’t it?

        The Maori have it much better than Native Americans or Aboriginals, they teach the culture in NZ schools and Maori mythology is pretty widespread in NZ. Not perfect but a lot better than how Aboriginals are treated here – like shit. They only make up 2-3% of our population, its fucked

        I didn’t know that the Scots had that happen long ago. They aren’t getting independence, from what I have seen looking in, cos England will lose out. I heard that England actually have two nukes located in Scotland! Dunno if that is right though. There was a vote for independence though right? What happened there in your opinion?

        And yeah, it is nice to talk to someone who is on my wavelength. Capitalism has disgusted me for as long as I can remember. Corruption is inherently a part of business, as is lying

        Sorry for the monster reply mate

        Liked by 1 person

      • Paganism still exists in small circles. In fact, my good lady is practicing pagan.

        Yeah, Scotland had a referendum a year and half ago. The result was 45% Yes to 55% No. The media went into overdrive to suppress the Yes movement by claiming the elderly would lose their pensions, our oil would run and that England subsidise us. All the politicians from Westmister (including Cameron) love bombed Scotland begging us to stay. They got their No vote and once that happened there was miraculously more oil found and it’s apparent that Scotland actually subsides England. It was a campaign of lies and media manipulation. And a campaign that became known as Hope over Fear. Ultimately, people were too fearful to leave and now we’re in the very state that they claimed we’d be protected from. I voted Yes, of course, and still actively campaign for another referendum. There were even strong claims (and some evidence to suggest) that the vote was rigged.

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      • From the limited news I saw, people wanted out of GB. I saw some of the ads targeted at undecided voters… disgusting, but not surprising =/

        A practising pagan, how cool. I am a practising Buddhist, well kinda 😛 I do meditate a lot

        I hope you get your independence. Good on you for campaigning, keep it up. You deserve it, even I can see that from the other side of the damned world!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m partial to odd spot of Buddhism myself, mate. I’ve fell away from it a bit recently but it’s something that has always interested me.

        Independence will come my friend. It’s simply a matter of when. But it’s coming 🙂

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      • I hope so mate! It sure seems like you deserve it.

        Buddhism is incredibly interesting, one of very few religions that hasn’t caused mass deaths at some point in history. At least not yet I don’ think!

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      • Organised religion tends to rub me up the wrong way. I’ve always drawn to Buddhism because I see it more of a philosophy than a religion.

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      • Yeah, me too, more of a philosophy. I like the idea that God is inside us all.

        And organised religion more than rubs me the wrong way. I went to a catholic school and as a little kid I thought I was going to hell for saying “oh my god, they killed kenny!” all the time. I fully believed it and was paranoid about it.

        Inducing fear into children that they’ll rot in hell for doing anything wrong. It sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Again, we’re absolutely on the same page, comrade. I too was brought up Catholic and went to a catholic school. I was baptised, I done my communion and confirmation and was regularly full of catholic guilt for something , anything, that amounted to nothing. It’s a fucking disgrace and it’s nothing more than a socially accepted form of madness. But, hey, it was a family trait and tradition and and most generations didn’t want to break that chain. I broke that chain for my kids. I refuse to expose them to that shite. If they choose it further down the line then in happy with that but it won’t be because I dragged them through it.

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      • Yeah bloody oath, good on you for not exposing your kids to that crap. A socially accepted for of madness, nice! I like that!

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      • As much as I hate it, I’m all for my kids learning about all religion. They can’t escape it after all. They might as well know it all and have a knowledge of what’s out there. A knowledge that will hopefully afford them a confidence in themselves and if they choose one, then so be it. It’s just not for me.

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      • I think that’s a pretty healthy attitude mate. Personally I’d be telling them from a young age that religion is BS, but I highly doubt I’ll have children, I think it’d be an act of cruelty given I have bi-polar, epilepsy and a degenerating bone disease. I don’t want to pass down that shit. If anything I’d adopt a kid who really needs it.

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      • Shit, man. Kids are a joy but you’re constantly left with the guilt of the shit you pass down to them. Whether that be physical or mental, we all have our shit but kids bring a whole new realisation to yourself. I admire your honesty and ability to see that beforehand, though. I didn’t but it does give me the opportunity to try and right some wrongs that were passed to me.

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      • I couldn’t live with myself if I passed on my genes. Too much shit to even list that I don’t want to pass down. It’d take an extremely special person to convince me otherwise and I’m extremely sceptical that will happen. I’ve been single for over 3 years FFS, and I’m almost 30, so all my friends have wives and steady girlfriends. Heh, all this makes me think of The Lobster!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! What animal would you choose? 😉

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  11. This sounds very unusual, but also engaging. Splendid take Mark.

    Liked by 1 person

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