High Rise -2016 (review): The beautiful breakdown of capitalist society

Film

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Directed by: Ben Wheatley Written by: J.G. Ballard (novel), Amy Jump Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller

Synopsis: Adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel in which life for the residents of an experimental tower block begins to run out of control.

High Rise could be seen as a film made up of Ben Wheatley’s greatest hits. Blending together the dark black humour of Sightseers, the social commentary of Down Terrace, the pitch black thrills of Kill List  and the all-out psychedelia of A Field in England. Yes, it’s funny and dark.  He has managed to blend his very distinctive voice with those of an incredible team, to produce something which feels like a future cult classic.

Amy Jump’s script is a sometimes-on-the-nose critique of capitalism, bringing Ballard’s themes bang up to date. Indeed it felt particularly timely given the current infighting in the British Conservative government, as if we were firmly in the middle of the chaos we see on screen. Also interesting to note she helped edit the film.

The design is beautiful, with a retro-futurism that makes the time frame of the piece difficult to pin down, marrying 60’s, 70’s and 80’s aesthetics with an almost Blade Runner-esque futurism. This timelessness is very firmly marked out early on, with Dr Laing (Hiddleston) opining they were “living in a future that had already taken place”.

Hiddleston is becoming the master of social chameleon roles, with his take on Dr Laing not being a million miles away from his character in the brilliant BBC drama The Night Manager. He is at once seductive, charming and remote, seemingly withholding a secret, sadness or brutality that is hard to read. His character sits firmly on the fence, blending with both those on the lower and upper floors of the High Rise. He finds himself being described as “the best amenity in the building” by some of it’s female denizens, echoing the sentiment that Laing and the building are inseparable.

Like Kubrick’s The Shining, the titular High Rise is one of the most prominent characters on screen, evolving with the characters inside it, from shiny new utopia, to burned out husk.

Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is superb, perfectly mirroring the chaos and mania that ensue, and ensuring that the audience feel as out of kilter as the characters.

While High Rise won’t be bringing Ben Wheatley to the mass market, it is likely to become a future cult classic in the vein of Brazil or even The Wicker Man.

 

9 out of 10

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