REVIEW: High-Rise

Posted 1 April 2016 about High-Rise.

Concepts now fairly familiar to most find cutting metaphor in Ben Wheatley's High-Rise, or more accurately J. G. Ballard's literary vision: the pitfalls of the class system, urban life, and capitalism. But, regarding every other dimension of its mightily colourful scope, the film is at once bizarre, enigmatic, and creative.

The focus of the film is Robert Laing, a sharp, suave doctor settling into his new home midway up an affluent apartment building. Above him dwell the very wealthy; below, they manage to get by. Royal, the architect of the tower, takes the penthouse, housing the luxury and the status that every resident craves, but few enjoy. We witness Laing mingling charmingly, navigating power players and social structures, while the lower floors' unruly inhabitants begin to dissent ever more violently, dissatisfied with the inequalities of the high-rise community.

High-Rise is quite a unique entity. Stylistically, it seems to find itself spanning a broad time frame, relishing the finest aspects of several eras. The elegant automobiles of yesteryear cram the car park outside, while chic interior design and technological proficiency suggest a far more modern setting, at times even futuristic. The brutalist high-rise itself, enchanting in its imposing magnitude, recollects vintage urban architecture, but even this is subverted by the architect's paradisiacal garden. Shell suits, smart suits, powdered wigs, and sideburns serve to flesh out Wheatley's visual amalgamation yet further.

The versatility of Clint Mansell resurfaces in his multi-faceted musical score, not least his arrangement of ABBA for strings, and though not of his pen, the appearances of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto, laden with aristocratic connotations, hone the narrative's cutting edge. A stream of laughs from Amy Jump's script further consolidates the entertainment factor. Making amusing use of juxtaposition, the sight of Luke Evans' Richard Wilder leading a party of excitable children (all chanting 'Swimming pool!') to crash a deacadent waterside soirée is something we're not likely to see again.

Though Wheatley's metaphor may be straightforward, it's not without nuance; the plot's many characters form a cryptic network of loyalties. Sienna Miller swaggers as Charlotte Melville, Evans captures the revolutionary fire in Wilder's belly as well as his darker passions, and even Jeremy Irons' Royal seems uncertain of which side to take. Thankfully, the calculated survivalism that Tom Hiddleston brings to Laing's role allows us to simply sit back and either enjoy the anarchy or recoil at the horror.

Hugh Maloney

Hugh of the ShowroomRead more posts by Hugh Maloney


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