Published on June 2nd, 2016 | by Nathan Raine0
Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, based on the ‘unfilmable’ JG Ballard novel, is a boldly realized vision and a biting, knowing comment on where capitalism takes us.
High-Rise opens with the monstrous concrete luxury tower invoked by the film’s title. The tower’s cascading top floors look as if the structure was designed to topple over — we soon discover, though, the overturning of the high-rise very much takes places from the inside out. The building offers our narrator, Laing [doctor, eligible bachelor, and casual misanthrope], played by Tom Hiddleston, a sort of indulgent isolation from the outside world. Venturing out into the world seems awfully primitive when one can shop for groceries at the in-house market, play squash at the exercise facility, or find companionship at one of the facility’s daycares, masquerade parties, or orgies. The building’s mastermind, Royal [Jeremy Irons] has designed a facility in which its residents not only have very little reason to leave, but the value of their very existence predicated on graduating to a higher floor.
Director Ben Wheatley’s superb realization of the J.G. Ballad novel of the same title is an overwhelming simulacrum of a 1970s utopia — the building and its characters equal parts elegant and haunting. It’s one of those ‘unfilmable’ novels, yet is executed with a precise and assured vision, frequently reminding of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian masterpiece, Brazil. The residents in High-Rise live an unblemished existence until the building’s utilities begin to fail, and the occupants of the lower floors, those banished to the “shadows,” begin to rise up. The building, despite its lifeless exterior, begins to transform to some kind of rabid creature, perhaps designed only as catalyst for their own undoing. There’s a type of cynical humour here, Wheatley smirking at the inevitable breakdown of advanced civilization to something barbaric when given its unlimited freedoms. Murders, suicides, riots, and orgies begin to mount, painting a vivid portrait on the nature of capitalist society through Wheatley’s beautifully perverse images.
Wheatley is hitting all the right notes in tone, social relevance, and comic absurdity for a proper satire, and is indifferent [to the lament of some critics] to the worthless notes of narrative structure and coherence. But the film’s messy form is necessary in its telling of the civilized becoming unravelled. A society of excess, consumption, and rapid decay play to a flood of beautiful sounds and often incomprehensible montages, all ingredients necessary to concoct the lawlessness of a dystopia. If you allow yourself to be taken by it, it’s an intoxicating vision — dark, poignant, funny, and, like any good satire, hits that terrifying place that feels a little too familiar.