But director Ben Wheatley’s adaptation is sadly unlikely to be his. A stew of glorious production design and pretentious nonsense, it's hard to figure out whether Wheatley knows what the internal logic of the story is, or whether he's simply making it up as goes along – albeit with stylish, dystopian flair.
In the midst of this chaos is Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston: an erstwhile respectable doctor who finds himself increasingly drawn to acts of profanity. Despite Hiddleston's talent and the more than capable supporting cast, including the likes of Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller, the characters in Wheatley's High Rise seem to be literally and figuratively lost to the mayhem of the story and the claustrophobic cement jungle in which the film is set.
At the film's promising outset Wheatley and screenwriting partner Amy Jump touch lightly and deftly on Ballard's social-capitalist parody. Living in the middle floor of the high-rise, Laing mingles between the upper and lower classes, before eventually befriending the dark mastermind behind the building’s design: Irons as ‘The Architect’ who lives in a penthouse suite at the very top.
We see ultra-bourgeois bankers come and go above Hiddleston in their three-piece suits, whilst working-class mothers on the bottom floors are attempting to make ends meet. Some of High Rise's scenes are very powerful, and show signs of Wheatley's past creativity and comic flair. Parties on the top floor take the form of an excessive aristocratic French salon, women dressed as Marie Antoinette, before – as in the French revolution itself – the lower classes rise against the inequality of wealth distribution in the building. But as events descend into turmoil, so our patience wanes.
The audience are, from then on, repeatedly accosted by a flurry of scenes in which man's primal desires are unleashed: from violence to rape and pillaging, raucous sex, drinking and the butchering of animals for food, this unending flooding of the screen swamps the film in excess and tumult. Though at times beautiful to look at, the film's characters and the story’s coherence are sacrificed in the haze. Where High Rise could have benefited from being a stripped down satire, Wheatley's version is over-egged and utterly exhausting.
At the ending, however, Wheatley comes into his own. Margaret Thatcher’s voice is eerily played over the high rise: a warning of how close modern politics could bring us to the breakdown of society (though I think it’s safe to say none of us will become nearly as mad as one of Wheatley’s characters). This powerful ending, though, is too little too late. Jumbled and confused, High Rise is unlikely to retain longevity after its release.
|High Rise film review
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