‘High-Rise’ – Film Review

Squabbling, sex and pet eating: what happens when a tower block goes feral

Ben Wheatley’s films don’t like an audience to be comfortable. Whether he’s going all out to disturb with something like Kill List or making his version of a romantic comedy, which in Sightseers involved serial murder as seduction, he prods and pokes to make sure you’re always paying attention. With this adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel, his biggest budget and starriest project to date, Wheatley’s lost some of his sharpness. The visuals are always eye-catching but the abstract story lets your mind drift.

Tom Hiddleston plays Dr Robert Laing, the newest resident in a 1970s tower built for those who want to live away from the general riffraff, although there are still class boundaries. The poorest residents live on the lower floors, suffering power outages and limited space. At the top of the building is its creator (Jeremy Irons), with gardens and room for a discombobulated horse. Laing comes in at the 27th floor, the place for the fairly well-off.

Laing initially acts as a cool observer, watching the various flirtations and resentments between his neighbours, like Sienna Miller’s party-loving single mum, Luke Evans’ testosterony filmmaker and his bored, pregnant wife Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men). As he lives alongside them, Laing becomes sucked into their petty squabbles and the tower becomes all. Like a grown-up Lord Of The Flies, this utopian society starts to crack as those with power desire more of it and those without grow resentful, until the whole tower has turned feral and people are shagging in the hallways and eating lost pets.

The film’s message is timely but simple: a society in which everyone is expected to stay in their place will eventually collapse. Wheatley makes his point quite early on, but once he’s made it there’s nowhere else to go. With such a large cast we don’t get the time to invest in any particular character’s story, so we just watch as the central message is hammered repeatedly with increasingly bloody blows. There’s no question that Wheatley has the skills to direct on a large scale, but here his narrative rattles around in too much space.

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