Recent and prolific British talent Ben Wheatley, maestro of the delightfully dark Kill List andSightseers, returns to the big screen after his lengthiest absence yet, bringing a positively bonkers adaptation of a classic J.G. Ballard novel with him.
Named for the towering apartment block in which its entire narrative is set, High-Rise follows newly-anointed resident Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), as he navigates the fierce new social hierarchy of the building’s inner-society; one which is dictated by a gradually-escalating class conflict.
Clearly out of his depth, Laing finds safety keeping friends on both sides of the divide, but when the petty squabbles eventually amp up to all-out war, there is simply nowhere left to hide. As the tower becomes engulfed in a bloody haze of orgies and violence, a tribal state takes over, where each and every resident begins giving in to their innermost primal urges, and society itself crumbles into nothing.
It’s a ballsy and complex premise, and one which Wheatley and his creative partner Amy Jump submerse themselves in 100%, right from the film’s very first frame. There are no breaks for exposition, no explanatory titles and absolutely no slowing down of any kind; everything there is to know about the sincerely screwed-up little parallel world that the film takes place in is fired directly at the viewer quickly and sharply.
In fact, at times this abrasive quality to the film can be a little hard to swallow, but overall it becomes clear, particularly as the climax looms, that without it the film simply wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective. High-Rise is a loud, brash and incredibly dark attack on the senses. There may be a great deal of characters and social advancements to follow, but at its core it’s very simply dedicated to a single idea: human nature as innately destructive.
Often at times Wheatley may dress this whole premise up a little too much – his insanely close adapting of the source material doesn’t necessarily always help proceedings – but on the whole he always keeps things not only intriguing, but also deftly entertaining. This is in part due to an incredibly well-rounded cast, namely its lead Hiddleston – a charming and equally bemused audience conduit – but also Wheatley’s own styling of the material. The film’s ethereal, 70s-style setting lays a lot of the ground work, but it’s actually the plethora of beautifully edited sequences and clever sound design which push High-Rise that little bit further. Abba will never quite be the same again.
It’s these small but significant features, when paired with the film’s overarching themes, which mark Wheatley’s latest as somewhat adrift from usual encounters. There’s no real genre template here, nothing to compare it to. High-Rise is a mess of surreal imagery and bonkers ideals, but one which displays an innate bravery and dedication to its cause, that ultimately allows it to become one of the most exciting British films in recent memory. It may not quite find perfection in all its madness, butHigh-Rise does succeed in gifting its audience with an entirely unique experience, and a thrilling one at that.
High-Rise (2015), directed by Ben Wheatley, is being shown as part of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the film including screening times and ticket information can be found here.