There is something utterly repugnant about High-Rise that makes it difficult to watch. The characters for the most part are hateful as they indulge in their hedonistic lifestyles. It’s difficult to care for any of them as they exist from one decadence to the next. They are all confined to life in the titular high-rise apartment block, cut off from the rest of society and living with their own set of rules. Just like the rest of the world however, there is a class order in place.
Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is a young doctor who has just moved into the building. Laing is the bridge between the haves and the have-nots. He befriends occupants on both sides of the divide yet never really fits with either social circle. As power outages affect the complex, civil unrest erupts with residents regressing to a primal state and the unnatural order of this manufactured reality is tested.
There is a dark humour to High-Rise that invites you to laugh but not without caution. Director Ben Wheatley has constructed a disturbing yet humorous film that mirrors aspects of modern society, made more frightening that J.G. Ballard’s original novel was written in 1975. It’s all to familiar, but this is told too late to be a cautionary tale.
Clint Mansell’s hauntingly beautiful score is the perfect accompaniment to this nightmarish dystopia. It’s dangerous and leaves you constantly on edge, like the residents of the high-rise you can’t let your guard down. For all its black comedy, the tone of the film changes towards the third act, the shift magnificently introduced by Portishead’s gorgeous cover of ABBA’s SOS. It’s horrifying and discouraging, with the title of the song proving to be a futile and demoralising.
The cast is excellent with Luke Evans in a show stealing role as Richard Wilder. He has a twisted moral compass and like Laing, never seems to find his level within the building. Jeremy Irons, Keeley Hawes, Sienna Miller and James Purefoy also turn in despicably wonderful performances.
High-Rise isn’t an easy watch and even though I’d recommend it, it doesn’t merit repeat viewing. It’s vulgar, dazzling, odious and elegant but also quite draining.
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