Possibly his best feature film yet, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is like a nightmarish acid trip that stylishly enthrals and repulses in equal measure
Watching High-Rise is like taking a bad psychedelic trip and watching your worst fears for humanity play out in a claustrophobic tower block. The film follows Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a reserved doctor who moves into a Bermondsey-esque tower building which operates a hierarchical system of lower class residents in the lower parts of the building, and the middle and upper classes dominating the top half of the building. But as ill-feeling is stirred by the lower residents in the building, a frantic madness begins to overcome the High-Rise.
High-Rise is a lot like reading your favourite graphic novel—each second of film is so detailed and perfectly positioned that each frame could be a Roy Lichtenstein picture, catching each and every thought and interaction of the characters.
Every drop of blood, every curl of smoke is so clear and colourful that it creates a sense of a nightmarish lucid dream. The costumes, hair and makeup augment this cartoony stylishness to the point of caricature, exaggerating the 1970s look of comedic sideburns, handlebar moustaches and floral dresses. What’s more, the direction is so stylised it does feel like a graphic novel flickbook rather than a film. A menacing Germanic synth cover of Abba’s ‘SOS’ is an apt nod to the era.
Tonally, Wheatley manages to create an amazingly tense watch. The film starts with such a slow build-up that it creates this momentum of dread which culminates into this frenzied and disorientating climax. Black humour is laced throughout, which seems to become less and less dark as the audience becomes desensitised to this. Having said that, for a film so sinister, elements of humanity and warmth are also present. Bonds are forged between characters as their world crumbles, and there is quite a tender moment in one scene between one resident and her son.
The cast were fantastic, and worked seamlessly well together as an ensemble. Hiddleston delights as the urbane Laing, and Sienna Miller is equally as good as the resident party girl Charlotte. The more unknown members of the cast are also brilliant, as Luke Evans portrays sinister working class actor Richard Wilder, and Elisabeth Moss shines as his restless wife, Helen.
One of the reasons why High-Rise makes for such fantastic watch is that, like all good films, there are myriad interpretations to its story. Ballard is perhaps the one who should be praised for this, but this is only highlighted through this interpretation of his work which has been so flawlessly executed. As you leave the cinema you can hear the stunned audience debating its true meaning—capitalism, humanity, class. It is completely up to the viewer to make sense of.
It is clear to see that Wheatley’s previous independent works such as Sightseers and A Field in England have been building up to a successful commercial film like High-Rise, where he can demonstrate all of his knowledge into one perfect feature. High Rise is definitely this. It’s so exciting to see him building and flourishing as a director, revealing another dark tale in a more inventive way each time.
It is hard to find fault with High-Rise as a film—every aspect of it flows perfectly together, and it is hard to take your eyes away from the screen. High-Rise is essential viewing if you want to see an original director in his element. Perhaps best avoided if you’re a dog lover though.