In the film adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s novel High-Rise, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) has built what he believes will be the perfect residence: a high-rise apartment building that contains both affordable housing for the poor and luxury suites for the rich. It is so perfect that–with in-building super markets and swimming pools–one never needs to go outside, except to go to work. When our protagonist Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) loses the last of the people in his life and is nothing more than a pile of boxes and a swank job as a head doctor, he takes up residency in the high-rise prototype, the first of Royal’s visions come to life, with others being built just on the other side of the parking lot. Laing is a perfect fit for a place like this, though he is quick to find out that he doesn’t grasp the social hierarchy. After meeting with Royal in his penthouse rooftop garden, he is invited to an upper class party where he is thrown out for not coming in a powdered wig.
On the lower floors, documentary filmmaker Wilder (Luke Evans) is more concerned with breaking the social hierarchy than tending to his pregnant wife and his children. In an ultimate protest, he crashes a hoity toity soiree at the building’s swimming pool, letting loose dozens of screaming children into the room. Though it appeared an insurrection at the time, nothing will compare to the violence that breaks out once the building’s growing pains–the loss of electricity and running water–turn the building into an apocalyptic landscape. The world moves on outside the building, yet no one feels the desire to leave. People stop going to their jobs, and even when a policeman knocks on the door, Royal hides his bloody shirt and turns him away. Residents are now surviving off of eating pets and drinking booze. The upper floors have become Roman orgies. The lower floors have become a bloodbath. Laing, having been the shell of a man coming in, seems immune to most of the goings-on and is therefore the first choice when his floor-mates need shelter. He is also the first choice of Royal’s henchmen when they are looking for a way to show Wilder his place.
High-Rise is a comically gruesome film. It is written well, as one can expect from Ballard, and shot well, as one can expect from Ben Wheatley. The satire is scathing and still works today even though it had been written more than 40 years ago. The choice to keep the story set in the 70s rather than in an era with smart phones and Internet was a good one, giving some authenticity to the film. However, my one bone to pick is that since the book focuses on the gradual decline of society in the high-rise, I would have liked to see that decline rather than see a montage that sweeps over it with Hiddleston’s voice over emphasizing that he didn’t know quite at which point everything changed. As it is a two hour movie, if they needed to save time, they could have removed the beginning of the movie where we see a flash forward of the end of the movie. While this is a sometimes warranted technique, it’s overused by movies that don’t need it. It tells me that the filmmakers expect the audience to be impatient in the beginning of the film, suggesting lack of confidence in it. I was disappointed to find that this flash forward was the end of the film and not the middle, so I spent the whole movie looking forward to seeing what happens after that moment only to find out that all that happens after it is the credits.
Another reason to see the film is the killer cast. Besides the stars Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons, comedy fans will spot loads of their favorite actors and comedians. The League of Gentlemen‘s Reece Shearsmith has a big role as Steele, the orthodontist and one of the first characters that we meet. Ashes to Ashes‘ Keeley Hawes is also playing a big role as Royal’s spoiled wife. James Purefoy plays one of the track suit-clad henchmen. Smaller roles are played by Tony Way (the building’s caretaker) and Julia Deakin (Laing’s secretary).
All in all, a big recommend from Anglonerd. It’s a 70s flick made today, so if you ever wished your favorite cult sci-fi film from the 70s had been shot in HD with your favorite actors from today, High-Rise is the film for you. (Though, considering my favorite director, Vincenzo Natali, was slated to direct a film based on this book years ago, I can’t help but wonder what the director of Cube would have done with a story like this.)