High-Rise is an incredibly hard film to simply recommend, but to simply reduce it as “one of those movies” would be just as unfair to the mastery that Ben Wheatley brings to the screen. With moments that channel the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg, Wheatley and writer, Amy Jump (also Wheatley’s wife, interestingly enough) take a bold and challenging approach to the acclaimed 1975 novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard. It would be easy to describe High-Rise as the vertical Snowpiercer, but aside from some superficial comparisons, it totally stands on its own.
The film makes it very clear in the beginning that things will not end well, as we are introduced to Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a new resident at the luxurious apartment complex. We get to meet some of the other residents (all performed excellently by the likes of Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss, among many others) and understand the hierarchy before the film quickly loses its damn mind and spirals into near literal class warfare. It’s chaotic and strange, but deliberately so. It makes a use of a dreamlike feel for its narrative, which is emphasized by it’s delightfully frantic editing, playful score and sound design, as well as the unconventional structuring.
It’s a phenomenally well constructed film, both in its examination of class and human nature as well as its basic craftsmanship. It flourishes with color, sweeping shots, great costumes and stellar production design. The building practically comes to life, leaping off the screen as its own world that offers so much, even though we only get a taste of it. Ben Wheatley really gets to show off his ability to worldbuild and he clearly has a knack for it.
Admittedly, the film is by no stretch of the imagination “subtle,” but I’ve always been the proponent that a film doesn’t need to be subtle in order to be effective. High-Rise has no intention whatsoever to be subtle about its themes or hide them in subtext. It’s as loud and brazen about what it’s saying as Wolf of Wall Street was. And even though, the idea of exploring classism is starting to get repetitive in most films, the sheer mania in High-Rise pulls the rug right from under you, keeping things interesting and engaging, along with some genuinely funny moments, as darkly funny as they may be.
The film builds upon the tension of the higher and lower classes before all pretense is dropped and the conflict becomes vicious and violent. It’s probably the most pure form of social decay put on screen yet, portraying its characters with a sadism and animalistic quality when things go sour. It shows how our deepest barbaric impulses are not too beneath the surface and it doesn’t take much to set it off, in fact, it feels more like an inevitability than anything else.
There is a lot going on in High-Rise, the text offers so much that I could go on forever. It’s the kind of film that will spark debates and misunderstandings for years to come. And as much as I would have a blast going on and on about it, all I can say is to watch it. It’s a hell of an experience and I do want to emphasize “experience.” The Wolf of Wall Street comparison wasn’t random. It is relentless and energetic, it overwhelms with its visuals and the audio. It displays utter depravity with a sly grin, but never taking away the power of the imagery.
While the films starts conventionally coherent enough, it very quickly, very suddenly goes from zero to 60 into a kaleidoscope of mayhem, scathing commentary and pitch-black humor. it becomes a series of moments, each more insane than the last. It is bold, uncompromising filmmaking, wholly committed to its vision. The unabashedly bonkers nature of the film is grounded in a truly wonderful performance from Tom Hiddleston, easily his best yet. It’s a dense film, both thematically and as a viewing experience that it wouldn’t surprise me if I find even more to it as I rewatch it over time. Ben Wheatley has always been an interesting filmmaker bringing unique gems to the cinema, but with High-Rise, he may have finally delivered his masterpiece. 95/100