TIFF: High-Rise Review

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High-Rise (2015)

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller
Director: Ben Wheatley
Country: UK
Genre: Action | Drama | Sci-Fi | Thriller

Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. For more information visit tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.

A good writer leaves a lot for a reader’s imagination to let them parse the narrative vision in their own way. A good director doesn’t coddle their audiences either. They are highly aware that there are two cinemas you must consider: the screen they present their viewer with, and the screen within the viewer’s mind. In the case of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, there are many stories to consider. First off, how does a filmmaker even begin to envision J.G. Ballard’s dystopian tale of a society living in a building totally closed off from the outside world?

The first image we see of Tom Hiddleston as Dr. Laing is blood spattered as a result of his living in enclosed and eccentric surroundings. He flashes back to the time he first moves into his tiny apartment among the already chaotic masses. There are his downstairs neighbors: filmmaker and predator Wilder (Luke Evans) with angst-driven Helen (Elizabeth Moss). The woman upstairs is the free and beautiful Charlotte (Sienna Miller). They all live under a class system where the bottom levels are the poorest, families are in the middle, and at the top are the upscale rich. The highest level is given to the architect, Anthony Royal, played deliciously and in a way obviously, by Jeremy Irons.

…High-Rise’s sleek aesthetics are a viable component of the film infusing it with the tension and quirkiness it so richly deserves.

There are odd dance sequences, battles throughout the complex, and chaos eventually reigns, but very little is done to alert the authorities. It’s reminiscent of Bong Joo-ho’s Snowpiercer with its claustrophobic societal analogies. However, High-Rise’s sleek aesthetics are a viable component of the film infusing it with the tension and quirkiness it so richly deserves.

Set in 1975, the lens grounds itself in that era with retro yellows, oranges and browns. Crisp lines and shiny interiors offer a Kubrick-like eerie feel while the run down areas feel homier, like dated shag carpet. The homes are packed and cluttered on the lower floors while the upper floors are fancy and extravagant. The signs of war and general dissent are shown in the aftermath as bodies pile up in public spaces and absurd scenes become the norm.

While Wheatley’s A Field In England was a bit of an acid trip, this film is a like a psychedelically infused play set in an M.C. Escher etching. The caste system is in the framework, but the building’s internal geography is an interesting maze where disorder lies in every corner. The novel showcases the architecture not just of how the tenants of the building fail, but how they fall because they rely on the building to sustain them. Technological dependence is no advancement to the illogical here.

…this film is a like a psychedelically infused play set in an M.C. Escher etching.

Hiddleston plays it both raw and cool as Dr. Laing. His devolution is foreseen from the get-go and his journey percolates into a rhythmically fueled sensuality. It’s fascinating to watch.

Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley have written an adaptation from a great book and made something new and beautiful from it. There are situations that seem to go nowhere, come from the ether, or lurk in the dark. These are places where viewers are forced to do internal double takes in their brains to render the familiar walls and pillars that hold up their own dream/nightmare-like buildings. This film has cult written all over it and I loved it.

8.5 Great

Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley have written an adaptation from a great book and made something new and beautiful from it. This film has cult written all over it and I loved it.

  • 8.5
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About Author

I'm a published writer, illustrator, and film critic. Cinema has been a passion of mine since my first viewing of Milius' Conan the Barbarian and my film tastes go from experimental to modern blockbuster.