Another film that was meant to come out back in 2015, High-Rise has been in different stages of production for around 30 years, with several tries falling by the wayside. Finally, it’s with us, so it’s about time that I reviewed it.
High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Luke Evans and is directed by Ben Wheatley. Based on the book of the same name by JG Ballard and set in an alternate 1970s, the film follows Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) who has just moved to the High-Rise. He is caught in the middle when all-out war breaks out between the poor tenants at the bottom and the rich at the top.
High-Rise boasts an impressive cast and all of them are doing top work. Luke Evans as Wilder, the instigator of the class war, Jeremy Irons as the wizened old architect Royal or Siena Miller as the temptress Charlotte, they are a great selection of actors. There are smaller roles of Elizabeth Moss (with a rather silly upper class accent) and an unrecognisable Keeley Hawes who are filling in the sides. And since it’s set in the 70s, the men are in flared trousers and moustaches and the women are in mini-skirts, and all of them have bad hair. It’s good costume design and might cause a buzz at next year’s award season.
The standout performance though is Tom Hiddleston as Laing. Laing is an outsider, we don’t know much about him at the film’s start and we know just as little by the end. He’s slimy but also charming at the same time, it’s a bit like Hiddleston’s performance as Loki in the Avengers. There have been rumours that he could be the new James Bond, and High-Rise is a promising audition. Hiddleston can show he’s suave and stylish but also ruthless and shady when it comes to it.
The story is set in motion by power failures on the lower floors while consistent power is running at the higher and penthouse suites at the top. The lower flats are styled in the 70s fashion, gaudy apartments filled with faux-wood and plastic chairs and tables, and are always shown in semi darkness. The top floors are brightly lit, painted all in white and furnished with rugs and extravagant pets. The tenants in the top floors are dressed like it’s the 1800s. They wear powdered wigs and ball gowns and tailcoats, they gorge on canapés and expensive alcohol and they behave like spoilt children. Laing fits right in the middle and is both played and plays for both sides of the conflict.
When the first cracks begin to appear between the floors, it soon turns to violence pretty quickly. Just imagine something like The Hunger Games if it was set in the tower block from The Raid and you’ll be around the right mark. It reminds me of something like Bioshock or 2013’s Snowpiercer, which was another film that dealt with the lower classes rising up against the upper class, but here we don’t see a lot of the large clashes of violence. We see the small fights but mainly the aftermath; the blood spilled on the floor, the rubbish piling up in the corridors and the household object that had been repurposed as weapons during the skirmishes. Anything and everything is used, scissors, golf clubs and sometimes just bare fists.
They fight over things like fresh food and candles as well as the alcohol, drugs and women that fuel their parties. Even while going toe-to-toe, both lower and higher floors find time to party all night, with the corridors turning into weird, drug-fuelled raves. Cinematographer Laurie Rose captures all of the decadence superbly through a mix of steady shots in the beginning before moving into the handheld camera to get right in the face of the depravity that unfolds.
I didn’t know what to expect when going into High Rise but in the end I was blown away by the sheer craziness of it all. While it does feel a tad overlong, it’s worth every moment just to see the beautiful mess that High Rise becomes.
Score: 9/10 Sexy, smart and sophisticated…while being completely mad at the same time.