TIFF 2015: “High Rise” (2015): Faulty Towers (Review)

Ben Wheatley’s latest descent into narratively-suggestive madness is a visual barrage and all-out assault on the senses. A disconcerting, revealing social experiment, ‘High-Rise’ straddles the morally-appalling and social-ambiguity of a structurally unsound, ego-driven hierarchy and proceeds in ripping it to shreds.

Under Wheatley’s microscope, the shocking nature of humanity’s survivalist instinct inter-woven with the absurd notion that the betterment of ourselves stems from the separation and categorization of our species transforms the inevitably doomed tower into a violent, despicable, morally vacant, sexually-charged hell that frighteningly resembles the declining state of our current social fabric.

By no means is ‘High-Rise’ reinventing the wheel, thematically speaking. Elitism has been rampant in oppressive regimes throughout Earth’s history and has once again rooted itself in modern society, this time taking aim at the populous’ hunger for celebrity and any form of acknowledgement. That said, despite the differing vehicle, Wheatley’s ‘High-Rise’ draws powerful similarities to the world today and aches with necessary relevance, even if it is difficult to admit.

Adapted from J.G. Ballard’s novel, magnificently I might add by Amy Jump. Wheatley’s ‘High-Rise’ certainly emulates the visual complexity and social-commentary of Ballard’s words. Each frame in Wheatley’s ‘High-Rise’ bursts forth from the screen like a piece of abstract art.

There’s this hallow aura, an angelic atmosphere that surrounds the complex’s elite as they delve flesh-first into each-other’s bodies, sexually or maliciously, at the very top of the high rise. Conversely, stewing in the establishment’s basement, the scent of sewage, trash, and decomposing bodies is so brilliantly depicted, it’s as if you can taste the rot on your tongue. Wheatley expertly utilizes his setpieces and engages the entire spectrum of the viewer’s senses, masterfully. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the film’s mainly classical score contrasts dazzlingly with the violent, sexual, destructive nature of ‘High-Rise’s’ visuals.

Drawing significant references to Joon-Ho Bong’s ‘Snowpiercer,’ good or bad; other than the ladder-like social climb, the two films have very little in common. ‘High-Rise’ isn’t as vocal, nor is it as structural in its ascent as Bong’s taut-thriller, but I digress.

Leading the way theatrically for Wheatley’s superb action-drama are Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, and Elisabeth Moss. In the lead role, Hiddleston’s Laing perfectly exemplifies the consequences of indifference. Whether he’s partaking in the sexual offerings of the apartment block’s free-wheeling mothers, submitting his body to an absurd amount of alcohol and cigarettes, or redecorating his bachelor pad whilst unknowingly being considered for an unsanctioned lobotomy, Hiddleston has embodied Laing.

Luke Evans as an addict, in every sense of the word, encapsulates Wilder’s insanity and ruthlessness within inches of the bullseye. Jeremy Irons’ Anthony Royal, the architect of this self-sustaining environment and unwitting constructer of its destruction, walks the line between protagonist and antagonist so finely, almost any action is indecipherable. Without question one of Irons most effective and memorable performances in recent years.

With a level of audacity that rivals Cronenberg’s ‘Crash,’ ‘High-Rise’ further affirms the bizarre, towering (pun intended) talent that is Ben Wheatley. An entirely all-too-enjoyable dystopian experience, ‘High-Rise’ will have you singing Portishead’s soothing, haunting rendition of Abba’s S.O.S well after you’ve left the theatre.

Overall: 8.5 out of 10.

Written By Joseph Falcone


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  • Tom

    Excellent piece Nick, I might not be looking around for this much as I’ve not heard too much about it, but what a fantastic cast. Sounds right up my ass. Er, alley.

  • tthanks for stopping by, but it was Joseph that actually wrote it… forgot to update author lol

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  • rich

    but what’s it about?

  • rich

    in fairness, i just read the review in Variety, and i still don’t know what it’s about.

  • Joseph

    Thanks Tom! Definitely add this one to your watch-list, one of the best films I saw at TIFF. Actually, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen all year!

  • Joseph

    It’s a really difficult film to explain, and to be frank, the less you know going in the better. Essentially, it’s about a self-sustaining high rise apartment building that descends into chaos and lawlessness when utilities, food, etc…are lost.

  • BexWolfie

    Thanks for the review, I can’t wait to see it once it’s out.

  • Tom

    Yeah just now realized that. Haha my bad Joseph. Great piece either way!

  • Joseph

    Thanks for reading! I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy this one.

  • Great review again Joseph. Really excited to see this. Though I’ve enjoyed his work thus far, I’ve been waiting for Wheatley to really break out with something compelling and incisive. Hopefully this is it!

  • Joseph

    Thank you very much, Adam. Wheatley certainly has been quite polarizing with his body of work thus far, and I’m sure ‘High-Rise’ will be no different. Incisive and compelling it definitely is! I’m positive you’ll be pleased with this bizarre action-comedy.

  • The Vern

    You had me at rivals Cronenberg’s Crash and Portishead covering Abba

  • Joseph

    Thanks Vern! It really is a magnificent cover.