By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Ben Wheatley, director, and J.G. Ballard, author really are a good fit: stylized, brutal, perhaps even a touch bit sociopathic.
Ballard wrote the other Crash, and I have a feeling Wheatley’s a fan.
High-Rise is another high-concept stage for Wheatley to explore the limits of human cruelty, a 70s-set, very British, vertical Snowpiercer in which Tom Hiddleston stars as a doctor/upper middle class/upper middle floor-dweller who gets caught between a revolt of the working class populating the floors below and the ruling elite in the penthouse levels above. Everything goes to shit pretty fast.
High-Rise the film, like High-Rise the book, opens with our protagonist calmly eating the dog. This jump to the end of society sets the stage beautifully for the slow rush of destruction that this film entails. This is a definite tone piece, frenzied, fatalistic, full of almost hallucinogenic interludes, and very, very dark.
Darker than Snowpiercer? Quite possibly.
Wheatly unleashes a dizzying amalgam of styles, montages, and music (period, ironically deployed classical, and atonal). The set and costume design seem to follow the prerogative of a 70s vision of the future matching the novel’s source decade, all primary colors, high collars, and slow-motion saturnalia.
You’ll know this film is for you pretty quickly, like many Wheatley concoctions, and this is one of his most cohesive visions, right up to the final kaleidoscopic murder scene which, yes, is pretty damn cool.
The plot meanders from incident to incident, simply a backbone to drape the meat of the piece over- pure tone. I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary to strain your brain keeping up, which is fine when taking in the aura of the piece but does impede any connection or empathy with the characters.
Not a Wheatley strong suit.
As society devolves, so does the movie into a bacchanalia of decay and destruction, which, of course is the point. However characters disappear, and the interpersonal dramas Wheatley perhaps wastes time developing in the onset lose all focus or sympathy. Maybe getting to the good stuff quicker would have been the way to go.
High-Rise is a fever dream with a social bite, a fine adaptation of a novel that is just that. Don’t expect much in addition, though.
High-Rise (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for the pool
Take a Drink: for each social strata we see
Take a Drink: for mindless parties
Take a Drink: whenever Luke Evans freaks out
Do a Shot: whenever a dog gets it