With the recent astronomical success of BBC’s Le Carre adaptation The Night Manager, the number of ‘Hiddlestoners’ is at an all-time high (it’s a pun, and admittedly not a good one). Whether intentionally released to coincide or not, the debut of Ben Wheatley’s cinematic adaptation of JG Ballard’s novel High Rise, couldn’t have been timed better.
When architect Anthony Royal unveils his latest and most adventurous structural experiment, protagonist Dr Laing (Hiddlestone) decides to occupy one of the final rooms. Enamored and hypnotized by the exciting lifestyle, Laing and the other residents are overwhelmed by obsessive objectophilia until chaos and primal instincts take rule.
High Rise is a visual spectacle, a triumphant collage of pure, mesmerising photography. Wheatley combines sound and a none stop gluttony of eye watering images to create a rather singular cinematic experience – but it isn’t without it’s kinks.
Perhaps the major downfall of the film is the lack of story movement, and this is no more evident than in the presentation of the inhabitants fall into chaos. The director purposefully emphasises the beginning of the madness arriving alongside the loss of power in the high rise – as if the power of the electrical world was maintaining order within the microcosm society. Although portraying humankind as being a switch away from anarchy has interesting connotations, it feels unnaturally convenient, and offers an all too easy entrance from the introduction,to enabling the vibrant, stabbing strokes of sinful carnage to take over the canvas for the rest of the film, without much motivation.
Overall though, where the film lacks the narrative progression of Ballard’s novel, the stunning imagery compensates immaculately, with each individual frame a portrait of some humanitarian flaw, worthy of being framed in a gallery.
Without doubt the most shockingly familiar scene takes place within the high rise supermarket. With the complex descended into primal carnage, inhabitants resort to cranial bludgeoning and visceral clawing to earn that final mouldy baguette, or in Laing’s case the last pot of paint. The display of competitive purchasing is only one step away from that of a Black Friday stampede for cheap electronics. This particular scene is the clearest example of when the film pulls out from portraying gluttony of excess, and zooms in on self-social mobilisation and the scrap to improve one’s status, bringing the film closer to the gritty poignancy of the original story.
Most film reviews will have a section devoted to assessing the performances of the cast, but it seems pointless where High Rise is concerned as suitably everything is overshadowed by the central figure, the building itself. Representing a complete array of personality traits, from cold solitary dankness to luxurious extravagance to unfulfilled mundanity, the buildings form, structure and being is the lone character, and each individual person simply acts as a blood cell of the whole living concrete creature. However, I would like to highlight Luke Evans’, whose portrayal of journalist Richard Wilder was appropriately madcap and deranged, with just the right amount of foresight wisdom to make him probably the most interesting character to watch.
So how to conclude? I think High Rise is one of those films you couldn’t possibly recommend, but that everyone should see. Although technically linear narrative wise, there isn’t a great deal that actually happens, and when people have asked me what it’s about, I haven’t really known how to explain it in a way that fully expresses all of its foibles. There are parts that make you wince, parts that make you ask why, and parts that just baffle all reasoning – but there is just something so damn enjoyable about it all. It’s a romp of sadistic revelry, a painting of rich sumptuous colour that your eyes cannot ignore, regardless of how wrong or uncomfortable it may feel.
The film asks over and over ‘What are you doing in there?’ and you must reply ‘I have no idea, but I love it!’, because like the high rise itself, the film is addictively liberating, and you couldn’t stop watching even if you wanted to.