This is going to be a hard thing to write about. So I will start with a short story about how myself and a friend went to see the new Ben Wheatley film High Rise. I had previously seen Ben Wheatley Films before, namely Kill List and Sightseers so I was well aware of the sheer artistic insanity that was about to unfold on screen. My friend was not, so after the 2 hours of an entire tower block descending into collective madness, Tom Hiddleston pealing the flesh off skulls and beating people senseless for a tin of grey paint, the only thing that I could say was sorry. That is not to say that the film is bad rather that it is probably recommended that you come to it having seen another Ben Wheatley film or at least a fair warning from a friend who has seen a Ben Wheatley film before to get you into the right frame of mind.
Wheatley has made a name for himself directing wonderfully uncomfortable horror films, squed portraits of Britain, and High Rise is no different. Based on J.G. Ballards novel of the same name, the film centres on Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) who has recently moved into a modern high rise apartment block designed by Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) which provides everything that the residents would ever need, apart from places to work. However minor faults in the building that Royal dismisses as teething problems, develop into class motivated chaos.
I have a particular interest in the past’s ruminations on the future. That is why I love old science fiction, if you look beyond the charm and cheesiness of the tin foil costumes and the cardboard sets there is a fascinating insight into a cultures hopes and fears. High Rise is an interesting beast in that regard. While the film is made in the present, it is clearly aware of its past origins. The book written in 1975 expresses the anxieties around modern technology and their effect on the human psyche. The adaptation takes the visual cue from the period, relying on the brutalist architecture and flared trousers to create a timelessness that still harkens to a specific period.
The camera seems to flow through this rich and highly detailed world. Laurie Rose, the films cinematographer, provides a feeling of claustrophobia within the dark shadows of the High Rise’s corridors. There is also a feeling of unreality right at the start of the film as we enter gyms, pools and supermarkets that start out looking fake and florescent. Which is all the present as lights flicker fail and are obscured by trash. Rose, Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley (who both edit the film now precisely when to slow the film down and play with an already malleable space. For example there are multiple slow motion fantasy sequences and a child’s kaleidoscope that “can see into the future” (though it really can’t) the shots through it are a rush of colour and movement. So that when the film does finally break down and the population turn on each other it is visually unsettling and strangely balletic.
The film is both a feast for the eyes and ears, but it would be crippled if it didn’t have top notch performances from the cast to populate Ballard’s and Wheatley’s crumbling urban sprawl. Tom Hiddleston is absolutely fantastic as Dr Robert Laing, providing a cool detachment that hints at hidden depths that the film only hints at, especially when the film implements shadows fantasies and reflections to make the film and character visually richer. Mildly sociopathic and reclusive Hiddleston cements in my mind that he is one of the best actors of his generation. Backing him up are some great supporting characters including Jeremy Irons as the architect of the High Rise, Anthony Royal, who is remarkably oblivious to the powers he has wrought on himself and others. Sienna Miller’s Charlotte Melville is perfectly mysterious and detailed, more than a mother to her son Toby (played fantastically by Louis Suc), and more than Royals aide. Finally and most surprisingly Luke Evans gives a spectacular turn as adulterating revolutionary Richard Wilder. Even the smaller parts are given talented actors for them to sink there teeth into including and especially Reece Shearsmith as Nathan Steele an anal retentive murderous dentist (tooth pun earlier most certainly meant).
This is defiantly a film to seek out. It is twisted, vile and downright insane in all the right places. Watch it, make yourself at home, you are very welcome in the Highrise.
Interesting review. No one can deny the style, beauty and performances of it all…but whether it really has a substance, tells a compelling story is another matter.