Ben Wheatley’s adapatation of J.G Ballard’s 1975 novel is an erratic, full-on assault of the senses.
Doctor Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is the newest resident of a pioneering, high-rise development – the brain child and vision of architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who also happens to be the building’s most lofty resident, inhabiting the entire top floor with its beautiful roof garden.
It’s a building within whose walls, residents, it is hoped, will want for nothing, with shops, a gym and a swimming pool all laid on for convenience, limiting the residents’ need for any interaction with the outside world. Most importantly, it’s a building, be it through default or design, that adheres to a strict class structure; the wealthier the resident, the higher their abode within its confines.
Doctor Laing resides on the 25th floor, somewhere in the middle. Going against convention, he is invited by Royal himself to mix with those who reside within the building’s higher echelons at a series of lavish parties, something that’s met with a mixed reaction within the building. Despite potential ructions, Laing’s existence within the development generally remains curiously trouble-free.
It’s quickly apparent that he is very much the exception – his independent stance is a sort of teflon Switzerland to the building’s increasingly warring factions – as a savage class struggle erupts between the floors, threatening to decimate Royal’s residential utopia.
High-Rise is a curious piece. The performances cannot be argued with. They’re strong right across the board:
Luke Evans plays the maverick, unhinged, Richard Wilder, Sienna Miller is excellent as sultry seductress, Charlotte Melville, whilst Reece Shearsmith is a predictably left field piece of casting as the particularly unloveable oddball, Nathan Steele.
To successfully flow with the High-Rise narrative, it’s certainly essential to suspend all notions of realism. J.G Ballard’s dystopian, nightmare vision of a society tearing itself apart is realised through director Ben Wheatley’s visually stunning, elaborate, over-exagerated scenes of excess, violence, sex and often brutal justice.
In all honesty, it all makes for somewhat confused viewing.
Whilst it’s undoubtedly high on impact and, at least on initial viewing, apparently low on subtlety, there is an over-riding sense that it’s all far too dense; there’s just too much going on and not enough clear justification as to why all events have so quickly unfolded and come to a head in such a way.
As a metaphorical, cautionary tale of the injustices and havoc induced by Capitalism, High-Rise certainly packs punch, but it’s how it all plays out, in the detail – the confused carnage of a rather foggy narrative – that it does fall down somewhat.
High-Rise is one for a repeat viewing, or better still a first read of Ballard’s seminal novel, but that’s brought about more from a need to ‘un-muddy’ the narrative waters a little, than any great pointer toward the film’s potential for enduring appeal.