Spoilers follow ...
- High-Rise review by NP
The depiction of human society collapsing into chaos is just as relevant and prescient today, over 40 years after the original JG Ballard novel was written in 1975. Tom Hiddleston (who also narrates the audio-book version) plays Robert Laing, first seen eating the remains of an Alsatian dog, as in the book.
Skipping back to three months earlier, when the complex was barely finished, and Laing is ‘welcomed’ into the ‘High-Rise’ by his fellow inhabitants, it is clear for the most part, that his manners, respect and politeness are no match for the abrasive confidence of many of his neighbours, determined to get him to ‘join in,’ and yet seem unwilling to accept him into their clique.
When the building slides into disrepair, and the luxurious amenities become an ever-growing series of unsightly, inoperable facilities, it seems the residents’ descent into pack mentality had started well before the decay of their world; if anything, the swimming pool, lifts and corridors are simply sliding into a fitting accompaniment to the residents’ wilful degradation. The building is simply accepting the squalor of its occupants.
The recreation of the 1970s is a conservative one, which is probably deliberate; it is doubtful how seriously we could take a story featuring the garish winged collars, flares and safari suits modelled at the time – instead we get more of a suggestion of the fashions from that era. The endlessly pregnant Helen (Elisabeth Moss), very much an innocent compared to the others, happily chain-smokes, without comment from anyone, another sign of the times.
Anthony Royle (the tower-block’s hierarchy?), the architect, floats around the wreckage of his dream like Dr. Moreau, surrounded by the barely human animals he has created. Jeremy Irons is every bit as good as you could imagine him to be. Typically of Ben Wheatley-directed films, the cast are universally good, and full of familiar faces, if not names. Dan Renton Skinner (better known as comic character Angelos Epithemiou) is unrecognisable as brutal Simmons, a character you long to see beaten up – which he is, by Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) who is even more Neanderthal than he. Reece Shearsmith is Nathan Steele, Sienna Miller plays Charlotte Melville, James Purefoy excels as Pangbourne, and Hiddleston is excellent as the central Laing. His character, like that of Helen, only partially succumbs to the toxic new world around them; fitting then, that they appear to form a relationship that may have a future, although nothing and no-one is exclusive.
A film ostensibly about unpleasant people succumbing to their baser instinct is not necessarily a story that justifies two hours, and yet any cuts made to this would rob the film of its potency. The humans presented are us, our society, without the veneer of respectability, policing or media. The lack of interference by the outside world is cursory, which is the only unrealistic aspect of this tale: the authorities simply don’t want to know.
Nothing is fixed; life continues. So as civilisation settles into a biryani of filth, what could be nicer than to sit back, eat the rest of the dog, and listen to a speech from Margaret Thatcher whilst waiting ‘for failure to reach the second tower in the Development.’ Thatcher’s love affair with dividing the rich (on the top floors) from the poor (the lower levels – in every sense) could be echoed here, and again, still echoes now.
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful.
Too true to be good
- High-Rise review by PR
I felt the need to endorse this film as most reviewers gave it a low score - most undeservedly, in my opinion.
For a start, it does justice to the book (as far as I remember, it is a long time since I read it) in that its main theme is the very nasty, feral nature that lurks just under everybody's veneer of civilization. The casting and acting are excellent all round, with top marks to Hiddleston and Irons, and ancillaries like the music and sets really add to the sense of increasing detachment from reality.
The most scary aspect for me is not the violence as such, but its acceptance as a perfectly normal way of life and, as a result, the typical retreat into personal gratification at a banal (in this case mainly sexual) level, presumably because facing facts in all their horror is too much for the brain to cope with . Alternatively, many of the characters continue going through the motions of what was once their normal routine, even as civilization collapses around them.
My only qualm is the inclusion of Margaret Thatcher's speech at the very end, because that drags the film down into the realms of yet more clichéd rants about capitalism when, in reality, the class wars could easily have been instead about anything else: religion, age, race, which football team you support… anything people hook on to in order to belong to a group and hate others. In other words, this film is about human nature, not about a political or social system, and not a futuristic dystopia at all, but about an already too-real present. Somewhere in the world this is happening as you munch your popcorn.
2 out of 4 members found this review helpful.
Bargain Basement Bore
- High-Rise review by Alphaville
Even one of J. G. Ballard’s lesser books is better than most and deserves better than this. It knows it’s a tough watch because it shows you the end at the beginning, in a failed attempt to foster interest while it jumps back three months for the long, slow build-up.
Nothing happens in the first half of the film, then the social network of the high-rise building breaks down, as the prologue has already shown us it will, then nothing interesting happens in the second half of the film. None of the stereotypical characters are worth caring about and the social satire (upper floors v lower) is trowelled on with the subtlety of a pantomime.
With no focus or momentum, it goes nowhere and adds up to nothing. One star for effort because it’s at least a step-up visually from previous tedious Ben Wheatley films such as Sightseers.
1 out of 2 members found this review helpful.