A dystopian tale under the roof of an idealised modernist skyscraper based on the novel by J G Ballard. The high rise tower block of the film’s title houses apartments of decreasing scale, and a number of other amenities, plus a rooftop garden – an addition owned by the architect who designed it… more on that later. We are introduced to Doctor Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a physiologist, and new resident to the apartment block. Only it isn’t long before the problems within this perfect society start to unravel.
Another Ben Wheatley film in which there are very little flaws. A lot like ‘Kill List‘, ‘A Field in England‘, and even ‘Sightseers’ to a lesser extent, ‘High Rise‘ is delivered to us with attention to detail favouring a documentation of the horrific over cheap horror cliché. The screenplay by Amy Jump is great. The dialogue is quick witted, and delivered through some excellent performances.
Hiddleston as our lead, like the audience, is trying to figure out his place within the predetermined order of the film. We also see Jeremy Irons as the architect who had designed the building. Elsewhere, performances from Sienna Miller, and Luke Evans bring to life Laing’s immediate neighbours, whilst a supporting cast including the likes of Reece Shearsmith, add to the building’s vast population.
This is a visual feast. The tower itself a real brutalist pillar of modernism. All of the interiors are as striking as the exterior location. We see Laing’s hollowed out flat, dimly lit and containing just cardboard boxes. We see a grand swimming pool, a simplistic gym, and the rooftop terrace – a whole world on its own, in which Royal (Irons) hides away from the accountabilities of his creation. The supermarket has just a uniform design in the colour and shapes of it’s products. These structures, visually, are broken down throughout the film.
The smallest of details have been ironed out, so much so that on the third and fourth viewings of the film you will begin noticing new things. The paintings that hang on the upper floors, the components of the dream sequences, the characters disguised in fancy dress at one of the parties. The props, set, and costume have been thought about in a meticulous manner. The soundtrack too; the score by Clint Mansell. There two different versions of ‘SOS’ originally by Abba – one written into the score, the other by Portishead. The recurrence of this is interesting. It again highlights the societal ideals and their failings presented in the narrative.
The narrative itself is a little difficult to engage with on initial viewing. Perhaps the only problem with the film is that it starts at the end. We get a glimpse of the chaos that is about to ensue at the very beginning. The narrative then shows us how we end up at that point. The narration at the start and end is fundamental to the story arc, it is a pity this voice over is largely omitted from the rest of the film.
These narrative set backs are minor and do not detract much from the overall piece. It’s a film you’d have to revisit in order to fully understand the layered meaning, but then as with ‘A Field In England‘, we might come to expect that from Ben Wheatley. ‘High Rise‘ is another visual triumph with all of the intrigue and dark humour you’d predict. Someone gets hit in the face with a BAFTA award.