Michael Haffner / We Are Movie Geeks
What if the party never ends? More importantly, what if the guests actually want to drive themselves to the point of no return? This is one of many ideas that takes up occupancy in Ben Wheatley’s masterful new work. HIGH-RISE is about excess to a crazy level. The characters, situated in their little microcosms on each floor are practically begging for the apocalypse. They are boozing and pushing themselves past the point of depravity because… well… what else is there.? No one wants to return to reality the next morning. When the drinks run dry and the record plays its last tune, do we really want to go back to a sense of normality?
Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) has just moved into a new building designed by architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) – a wealthy hermit who takes up residence on the top floor of the multi-story building. In fact, the building is situated as such that each floor is a class of their own, going from the lower class on the bottom to the wealthy at the top. As Laing adjusts to life in the high-rise, he becomes more aware of tension between the classes, which ultimately leads to all-out chaos.
HIGH-RISE presents an unpredictable world. Even though there’s an obvious structure that’s inherent to the building, Ben Wheatley shows that everyone is essentially the same. The base needs and desires of humans are all the same regardless of their social or financial status. Wheatley shows how each class uses sex and alcohol and “the party” as a way to escape the harsh reality of life. What gets darkly funny is how “the party” becomes a status symbol and a way to create a rivalry among groups. Life is a competition, even if it’s something that seems as trivial on the surface as a night of excess. But that is what’s most interesting about J.G. Ballard’s novel and Amy Jump’s script that Ben Wheatley understands: happiness is equated with overindulgence.
Tom Hiddleston delivers a subtly nuance performance. Even when he doesn’t appear to be doing anything, his line delivery or shifts in posture create a character that carries this ensemble film. Elisabeth Moss creates a fragile character that you hope will escape the struggling marriage and lonely life she lives, even though you know that this is a hopeless wish. Who delivers a star-making performance is Luke Evans. His career has consisted of background or supporting characters, and although he plays another supporting character here, he finds a way to stand-out in a considerable way. His journey from the start of the film to the anarchic finale is more moving and tragic than any character in the film. It’s a character that you love to hate, but Evans gives it just enough humanity that Academy voters will be hard-pressed to avoid acknowledging.
Ben Wheatley has a knack for placing the perfect song with a particular scene. This is especially evident in his exceptional prior film SIGHTSEERS. HIGH-RISE is no exception. Pop music from the 1970’s and classical compositions breathe life into the film. But Portishead’s cover of Abba’s “S.O.S” is one of the most memorable musical moments I have seen in a theater this year.
HIGH-RISE can be looked at as a spirtual cousin to Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA. The elite appear to be asleep in both films in a dream world that is foreign to many. However, Wheatley’s film continues the conversation past the dream state. It shows what happens when they awake from their night of champagne and caviar and how they are supposed to live when the champagne runs out. HIGH-RISE is a masterful satire of society’s instinctual lust for depravity. Made with Kubrick-like precision, HIGH-RISE is an uncompromising look at an apocalyptic dystopia that might be the most relevant and important film of the year.
Overall rating: 5 out of 5