‘Mrs. Hillman is refusing to clean unless I pay her what I apparently owe her. Like all poor people, she’s obsessed with money…’
With out of left field films like Sightseers and The Kill List, Ben Wheatley has established himself as one of the most unique voices in British cinema but without ever making something populist enough to seep into the public conciousness. It is safe to say that High Rise will not be the film to change that state of affairs…
Imagine a party thrown by Raoul Duke and Patrick Bateman at the Overlook Hotel and you are somewhere close to the debauched mayhem that rips through the eponymous high rise tower block in which the film is set. A strong cast boasting the likes of Tom Hiddlestone and Jeremy Irons alongside other high profile British actors such as Sienna Miller and James Purefoy, all excel, in what constitutes unfamiliar roles for all of them (with the possible exception of Irons, who revels in the opportunity to display his brand of righteous indignation amongst a new setting).
Outshining even the brightest stars however, is Luke Evans. The Welsh actor is magnificent as the crazed film maker Wilder, bringing just the right balance of menace and charisma. Evans has made a career out of good performances in mostly bad films, it is surely only an amount of time before he hits upon the right role at the right time. Mad Men‘s Elizabeth Moss also impresses as the matriarchal symbol of the lie that is social mobility, but it is Hiddlestone who acts as the glue that holds this sometimes messy film together.
The basic theme is simple enough with the higher floors of the tower block representing the upper classes and the lower floors representing the proletariats, a bit like on Titanic but with more anal sex. There are also underlying themes of cronyism, religion, sex, greed, biology and human nature. It would take repeated viewings to fully understand the rich tapestry that Ben Wheatley has crafted here. High Rise is a film steeped in symbolism and visual cues, the close up shots of the building itself recall the monolithic structures seen in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for example, and the soundtrack is majestic from start to finish.
High Rise wears it’s influences on its sleeve but forms a whole that stands as a complete anomaly in modern cinema. I have never seen a film quite like it.
*I have never read the classic J.G. Ballard novel that makes up the source material so I have chosen to omit it from this review.