Monday, 11 July 2016

Film Review: High-Rise

Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise mixes black humour with even blacker horror to create a dark, decadent delight.

High-Rise stars Tom Hiddleston as Robert Laing, a dapper middle-class doctor who moves onto the 25th floor of a cutting-edge apartment block located on the outskirts of London. Described by Royal (Jeremy Irons), the architect, as “a crucible for change”, the building is an towering example of hellish modernism that houses everything one would need to live out their life without ever stepping outside – from swimming pools and supermarkets to sparse sun terraces to gaze upon the sprawling urban dystopia stretching towards the horizon.

Laing soon finds himself trapped between a rock and a hard place; you see, the building is a rather blunt allegory for society, with the wealthy upper class sitting on top and the poorer have-nots struggling to escape the rigid social hierarchy.

Like chickens trapped inside a coop, the shit travels downward and resentment soon begins to bloom amongst those unfortunate enough to be caught in its path; whether it’s power outages or scarce food supplies to the lower floors, law and order rapidly begins to dissolve inside the isolated tower block when instigators like Wilder (Luke Evans) start a violent uprising against their snooty neighbours upstairs.

Sitting somewhere between Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer and that episode of Community where the whole campus devolves into a parody of a futuristic dystopia, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a complex mixture of both shocking violence and menacing satire.

The cinematography from Laurie Ross is gorgeous; he perfectly captures the unsettling contrast of filth and glamour through some fantastically dark and macabre compositions. Along with Wheatley’s direction and Amy Jump’s devilish screenplay, the sick, twisted tone of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel is surprisingly well replicated on the big screen. The lavish production design from Mark Tildesley ensures that High-Rise is one of those rare films where the physical setting is its story; each floor and room has a distinctive texture that informs the audience of its wicked occupants.

Clint Mansell’s excellent soundtrack ties the whole experience together with sultry riffs and hypnotic synth, but it would be remiss of me to not mention the brilliant slow-jam cover of ABBA’s S.O.S by Portishead that arrives somewhere in the midst of a reprieve from the chaos. It’s a haunting hangover that will echo through your head for days afterward.

The film does fall into some unfavourable trappings at times, such as the use of ‘sexposition’ to hold our attention during prolonged periods of set-up. Except, it isn’t really warranted - with a central concept as compelling as this, the only purpose it serves is to luridly flash Hiddleston’s perfectly sculpted bum at the camera.

Hiddleston tackles the mayhem with the same sincerity one would usually reserve for Shakespeare, whether he’s making small talk over cocktails or spit roasting a dog on his balcony. Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss are great as two of Laing’s neighbours, whilst Evans’ loose cannon Wilder is suitably unhinged and unpredictable.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

It’s hard to define the appeal of High-Rise; the metaphor is a little blunt and the acting often strays into goofiness, but much like the aforementioned Snowpiercer, its technical prowess is too rich and gorgeous to ignore. Not everyone will derive enjoyment from Wheatley’s potent mixture of skin-crawling violence and writhing sex orgies, but the confident lead performance from Hiddleston and the sheer volume of colour and atmosphere that the production exudes will enchant art-house audiences if nothing else.

High-Rise is currently screening at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival. It opens across Australia on August 18. 

This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out. 

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