“Is that a horse?” “Probably.”
Beginning with a striking opening sequence straight out of J. G. Ballard’s novel, Ben Wheatley’s High Rise ripples with elegant brutality. High Rise opens as an Apocalypse American Psycho as Tom Hiddleston drifts and wades through mounds of trash, contrasting the context with his suited attire. His presence is the first indication of the surreal situation the film thrives in.
High Rise mixes the supremely surreal with the most minor mundanities. Whilst decadence and deterioration crumbles the walls around the High Rise’s occupants, life goes on with an unnerving normality. Despite the disassociation with the outside world that falls over the residents, panic is slow to set in. Amenities fail, resources run dry and atrocities are committed, but the characters initially hold a strange calmness over their position. The eerie musical narration hints at the sinister underbelly that is slowly revealed with each passing scene.
Surrounded by sin, few characters prosper, and none like Wilder. The aptly-named character, played by Luke Evans is a shining light in a room lacking sunlight. His Damned United appearance aids his appeal in a magnetic and towering performance. Without his presence on screen the tension drops and the film’s many tangents feel strained.
Hiddleston’s Laing gets lost in translation as his quiet, settled demeanour struggles to feel peculiar or psychotic enough to be human. His early Patrick Bateman impression loses its draw, becoming dislocated from its original charm and fading into his space grey background.
The film as a whole suffers a similar fate, undermining itself, losing its message amongst the mess. The film is a microcosm of class warfare, despite any protestations otherwise. It may not be the cookie-cutter story of factory workers versus a high palace but it is not too far away. Whereas the film will draw obvious aesthetic comparisons to Dredd, Snowpiercer and The Raid, it struggles to outdo these on message or execution.
Stylistically however, High Rise is beautiful. Just as the film dares to veer too far off course, the beauty on screen helps re-centre the film. There is an ever-fading line between the old and fashioned and the new and depreciated.
High Rise is a powerfully surreal saunter. It loses its path along the way, fluctuating with you into a disappointing non-ending. Yet the cinematography and score attack the senses with such uncompromising spirit that the lack of several strong central performances can be somewhat forgiven.
High Rise will be out in the UK in March 2016.
Header courtesy of londoncitynights and image courtesy of variety.