HIGH-RISE [2015]

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Directed by Ben Wheatley

Written by J.G. Ballard (novel), Amy Jump

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss


Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise has drawn a very mixed reaction from fans and critics, which can often be the hallmark of a great film. We follow Dr. Laing (Hiddleston), a psychologist who seems to specialise in the anatomy of the brain. He is clearly detached from his work, which perhaps is what prompts him to rent a room in the High-Rise, to get further away from his reality, away from the unnamed city. Away from his past. The building and its inhabitants certainly prove to be a great distraction for Laing, though not in the way he was expecting.

The movie opens using a narrative device that I think rarely works: showing us the end result and then going back to the beginning to show us how it got to that point. Normally I’m not a fan of films that open in this fashion, but the opening scenes don’t tell us anything finite. It shows us Dr. Laing, unshaven and looking a complete wreck, out on his balcony, cooking what appears to be the leg of a dog. Interesting! We then go back three months, back to when Laing first moved into the High-Rise, a self-sustained tower with its own shopping centre, squash courts and a gymnasium, among other things. Almost as if its creator wanted his tenants to never leave the building.

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Despite being built as a “crucible for change” according to its architect, Mr Royal, it soon becomes obvious that the building has developed a social class divide, depending on the floor you live on. What amused me most about this situation was the sheer arrogance of the ‘upper-class’ people, quick to turn on each other, while gossiping like there is no tomorrow and looking down, literally, on those that live below them. They remark at how dirty the ‘street-level’ people are, while those near the bottom complain that they paid the same amount for their apartment but are treated like garbage and are suddenly subject to power failures.

Laing comes to a key realisation when playing a game of squash with Mr Royal, who remarks about the more disillusioned in the building: “They have fitted themselves so tightly into their slots that they … they no longer have room to escape themselves.” The tower is a place where its occupants cannot escape themselves, leading to some extreme behaviour, especially from maverick documentary film-maker Wilder, a character whose sheer energy is nailed by Luke Evans, chewing up every scene he is in. But he certainly isn’t the only one acting odd.

Wilder

Occupying the 25th floor, Laing seems to be right in the middle of this class struggle, and it is remarked by one of Mr. Royal’s heavies that he is quite the social climber. Indeed, he manages to make peace with those living above and below him, despite multiple obstacles, many truly bizarre in nature. The fact that Laing is a psychologist, yet doesn’t leave the insanity of the building, is the ultimate statement about where Laing is psychologically. He is in fact asked at one point if he murdered his family, as gossip runs riot in the High-Rise. Laing hesitates before denying the accusation, and we hear no more about it. Was Laing insane before he even arrived at the High-Rise? We never know, and this is just one question of many that the film throws at you.

One of the best aspects of this film is the world in which it takes place. Adapting from a novel written in 1975, Wheatley and Jump are able to weave a truly surreal story taking elements from 1975 – where the British infrastructure was crumbling and citizens were subject to lengthy blackouts, while workers went on strike en masse. Despite this 70’s setting (and wardrobe), Wheatley incorporates it into a modern looking, dystopian world. The look of the tower alone suggests power, yet another attraction of living the ‘high-life’.

As the lower and upper class battle for supremacy – an ultimately fruitless task – life within the High-Rise devolves into total anarchy due to the class warfare taking place. Conditions are insane, much like many of the occupants, and almost all of the behaviour becomes crazy – all of it routinely ignored. The irony that the song SOS by ABBA is covered twice in this movie is not lost.

I’m sure most viewers will be asking themselves at some point in the film: why don’t these people simply leave this madness?

To these people, the style of the high-life is extremely attractive, as is the modern looking tower. This desire for a higher quality of life takes over their best judgement – despite the mess that is piling up, those living near the bottom only have one thing on their minds: climbing to the top, wanting what those above them have, almost child-like. They have cocooned themselves into this reality, disconnecting from the world that exists outside the building. Their determination to get even with those on the higher floors usurps their minds and best judgement, leaving them to continue the battle. As Mr Royal says, many of the occupants are no longer able to escape themselves, leading to almost beastly behaviour.

I certainly can’t blame someone who doesn’t buy this premise though. It is easy to say ‘why didn’t they just leave?’, but I feel there is much more to this film than first appears. I watched it twice, as the first ride was frantic and seemed riddled with plot-holes. Which it is; some aspects of the plot need to be overlooked if one is to enjoy the movie. Revel in its debauchery!

Add to this wild ride a fantastic soundtrack and a beautiful visual style, with a sharp script filled with dark, twisted humour that propels the story forward, and the movie becomes even more fun to lose oneself in. The cast of characters we meet define the word memorable; from gossip queen Charlotte to film-maker Wilder, as well as every single person in-between, no matter how small their role.

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The movie becomes more fragmented as the film moves on, with the final act depicting the depravity that the men of the building have sunk to. Their disconnection from realityfive beer(1) causes them to think of the High-Rise first and foremost, taking priority over almost everything else. There is no doubt that the final act is messy, disjointed, and more than a little jarring. But it is also one hell of a roller-coaster. This is Fear and Loathing gone sober.

One beer short of a sixer!

5/6

 

 

25 Comments on “HIGH-RISE [2015]

  1. There are a ton of good lines in here that I’d to highlight, but the two that really stand out is your description of “Fear and Loathing gone sober,” which REALLY makes me want to see this (more so than I already have been wanting to) and your comment on how some movies getting such a divisive response can often indicate a quality movie. I couldn’t agree more to that. I find that happens to me often. I’m drawn to a lot of films that have divided audiences and critics sharply. High Rise has really epitomized a mixed response and that’s doing nothing but making me want to see it more. Nice work here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much mate! Yeah this has drawn five star reviews and one/two star reviews… But for me it was a wild roller-coaster that got increasingly crazy as it went on. I hope I haven’t got your hopes up too much, but I reckon you’ll enjoy its particular kind of madness 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great read Jordan. I think we agree about a lot of things in relation to High-Rise. The most consistently-applied criticism of the film is that it’s “a mess”, and there’s no doubt that it is…but messiness can be interesting. Rough edges can be interesting. Plot holes and skewed logic can be interesting. Awkward, inconsistent pacing can be interesting. It’s not one of my favourites of the year so far but it’s a film I’ll definitely revisit at some point as there’s just so much going on, and I’ll take it over a lot of the less messy films I’ve seen. I’m not surprised you took in a second viewing. I guarantee that this will be looked at favourably by the majority of critics one day, and people will be queuing up to sing its praises. But yeah, it is all over the place!

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    • Yeah I’m with you, messiness can be interesting. And this was one messy roller-coaster ride. I reckon it’ll gain a cult following in time too. There are too many good things about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am very interested to see this since the style is 70’s but set now. I’m not a fan either of showing you the ending first but Im willing to give it shot. This looks good

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    • Its pretty crazy but if you don’t try to pick holes in it, its a ton of fun, with a ton of thought-provoking moments

      Like

  4. I so wanted to see this but it had a very short run at my local cinema and we never ended up actually going. Hoping to catch it on DVD though. There’s something about the premise that makes me think of Brazil.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It certainly is bizarre like many of Gilliam’s films, though I’m not sure its close to Brazil. It reminded me of his style though

      I’ve seen people compare it to Snowpiercer, which I think is extremely simplistic but they are similar on a basic level – class struggle, trying to get to the top. But this is a satire as well, as well as a comedy, while Snowpiercer was a straight dystopia flick.

      I hope all that made sense! 🙂

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  5. This movie sounds more and more interesting the more I read about it. I had the chance to see it at TIFF and regret not picking it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It has certainly been divisive, but like I say, some of the greatest ever receive a mixed opinion. I can’t imagine something like Clockwork Orange scoring unanimous praised at the time it was released. Or maybe it was, who knows! But this is DEFINITELY a film worth watching at least twice. There is just so much going on, I honestly could have written another thousand words about it

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  6. Just caught up with this the other night, Jordan. I had heard some heavy criticism of it but I don’t fall into that camp. I’m with you on this. I found plenty to like about it. It was visually stunning and it’s sociopolitical message was spot on. I liked it, man. I liked it a lot.

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    • Awesome! Glad you dug it man, its bloody good fun! And yeah, how awesome did that mirrored elevator look? Hell it even had a couple Coen-esque weird dream sequences!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hadn’t seen anything by Wheatley before, I must go back and watch Kill List I think it is. It certainly had its own style, no doubt about that

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kill List is one I really liked. Sightseers was also a great black comedy. It’s worth checking out more from Wheatly, mate. He’s an interesting director.

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  7. Great post 🙂 I loved Ben Wheatley’s other films and I hope this one is great 🙂 Plus it is based on a J.G. Ballard novel who I am a big fan 🙂 Speaking of which, did you ever see David Cronenberg’s 1996 film Crash? No relation to the 2005 film of the same name 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Like

    • I actually haven’t seen the modern Crash. It seemed like pure Oscar-bait so I didn’t bother. I have seen all of Cronie’s stuff, and Crash was one of the more…. strange ones, and they all are pretty strange! I didn’t know it was the same author, I had never heard of him before this. I’ll have to get a book of his for my e-reader… although I’m STILL working through Inherent Vice ;P

      Like

  8. I liked the concept behind the movie, the cinematography and the music but the main character’s actions and intentions wee so puzzling I couldn’t connect with anything in this movie :/ and the dog thing was terrible

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah the dog part was a little overboard I agree, I cringed at that. Laing’s actions certainly did get very puzzling, my little theory is that he was insane before he even got there. A kid asks him if he murdered his family at one point, and he reeeally stutters before answering! He also acts really weird when he first arrives, caressing the walls..

      But of course that’s just something I pulled from my backside 😛

      Like

  9. Pingback: TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016 | epileptic moondancer

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