High-Rise



High-Rise is a 2015 British science fiction thriller film directed by Ben Wheatley, starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy and Keeley Hawes. The screenplay by Amy Jump is based on the 1975 novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard.

In September 2015, the film received its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and its European premiere at the 63rd San Sebastián Film Festival. The film was released in the United Kingdom on 18 March 2016 by StudioCanal.[1].

The opening scene shows Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), finding and eating a white Alsatian on his apartment balcony.

The film reverts to three months earlier. After the death of his sister, Laing moves into a 25th floor apartment within the new high-rise, a luxurious apartment complex built by esteemed architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons). The high-rise seems to give its tenants all the conveniences and commodities that modern life has to offer: swimming pools, its own school, a supermarket, and high-speed elevators. But at the same time, the building isolates the occupants from the outside world. With so many commodities, the only reason people need to go outside is to go to work. This allows them to create their own closed environment. Also there is marked class system: the upper class who live on the topmost floors, the professionals who live on the middle floors and the poorer middle-class tenants who live on the lower floors.

After an encounter with Royal’s aide, Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), Laing attends a party being held in Charlotte’s apartment directly above his. The next morning, Laing is invited to meet Royal, who invites him to attend a party held by his wife, Ann (Keeley Hawes). Ann jokes about Laing’s attire, and he is thrown out of the party by Royal’s bouncer. On the way back a power failure causes Laing to become stuck in the elevator. Other technical faults begin to emerge throughout the high rise, and garbage chutes are clogged up. After a game of squash with Royal, the architect explains that these are merely teething problems.

Later Laing is given a brain scan of a trainee, Munrow (Augustus Prew), who fainted during an autopsy on a schizophrenic’s head. Munrow is also a resident of the high-rise, and laughed at Ann’s joke. Laing lies to Munrow, telling him that “we found something” in his brain.

Laing attends a children’s birthday party on the second floor, with Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his heavily pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss), two people he met at Charlotte’s party. After Helen mentions that the children were turned away from the pool for being too noisy, Wilder brings the children to the pool, interrupting a party held by actress Ann Sheridan (Sienna Guillory). While swimming during another power outage, Wilder kills Ann’s pet dog. Later Munrow, in a seemingly drunken escapade, falls off the high rise and crashes onto a car. The next morning, Wilder angrily visits Laing, ranting about how “not one police car [turned] up” after Munrow’s death.

Life in the high-rise begins to degenerate quickly, due to continued power failures, petty annoyances among the neighbours and increasing tensions among the classes. Parties are held in the corridors and as infrastructure breaks down litter accumulates around the building and the supermarket is near empty. Laing starts to become less connected with his job in London, while becoming more violent when returning to the high rise.

In time the majority of the residents stop going to work altogether, spending all of their time in the high-rise. They eventually divide into violent ‘tribes’. One resident, Pangbourne (James Purefoy), suggests that they should beat up Wilder and collect supplies from the supermarket, in order to have a better party. Wilder is severely beaten, while his cine-camera records the fight, and is dumped outside of the building.

Laing is visited by Helen, and they form a romantic relationship. After Helen leaves, she is taken by Pangbourne to the top, where she is the replacement housemaid. Laing later receives a letter from Pangbourne, asking him to perform a lobotomy on Richard Wilder. Cosgrove (Peter Ferdinando), the only resident who leaves the high-rise for work, is captured and killed while returning to the high-rise.

Wilder wakes up and decides to find Royal and kill him. Ironically he encounters Royal in the lobby who is explaining to a policeman that everything is fine in the building. Wilder makes his way up the high rise, eventually finding out that Charlotte is Royal’s aide, and acquiring a gun from an apartment he raids. Entering Charlotte’s apartment, he tortures her to find a way up to Royal’s penthouse. Wilder is eventually met by Laing, who performs a psychiatric examination. Laing is captured by Pangbourne, and almost thrown off the building when he refuses to lobotomise Richard Wilder, but is saved by Royal.

Laing and Royal eat dinner (where it is implied that the meat was either human or horse), and talk about the failure and ultimate success of the high rise; that it is a “crucible for change” and could lead to new developments. The women at the top, including Helen, begin working towards a more suitable management of the high rise. Helen also gives birth to her overdue child.

Wilder manages to make his way to the penthouse, and shoots Royal after a scuffle. He is summarily killed by the women of the top.

The film ends as it began, with Laing eating the Alsatian. The women of the top have managed to form a new sort of society, Laing tends to people who are injured, then lies down with Charlotte in his arms, ready to greet the people of the new high-rise neighbouring them. The film ends with Toby (Louis Suc), Charlotte’s son, listening to a speech of Margaret Thatcher.[1]

The first review I saw of this film stated that the book used a narrator, and the film doesn’t, and that the film hadn’t found a way to replace that narrator. And that, was my over-riding feeling on exiting the cinema: that there were too many shots and scenes that required more explanation or clarification.

The main imagery of the film was of the values and styles of the 80s eating up the values and styles of the 70s. But the book was set in the future and the film was set in the past and it failed to really say anything about where we are today.

The characters failed to engage because the film portrayed the building as ground zero, none of the characters brought anything of their pasts into the building – except for the death of the star’s sister, which kept being mentioned but didn’t have any consequence… ???

The random shot of the trooping air-hostesses, how many times do we have to see that shot? It’s been done, move on!!

The lead actor seemed to come from a completely different era to everyone else. It was like he was doing a Daniel Craig as Bond impression. Everyone else is mimicking the 70s and 80s and he’s waltzing round in a 2010 costume?!!

I find current portrayals of the 70s to be unwatchable. Everyone’s too thin, which combined with the post-De Niro school of acting in which everyone wears a glacial expressionless edifice for a face, means everyone looks neurotic! There’s no colour, there’s no character, there’s no humanity, there’s no twitching, there’s no glint of an eye, there’s no Jack Nicholson!

And the hair! The hair’s the worst. The era of un-moving micro-precise perfectionism trying to approximate the an era of wind-blown sloppiness. It makes everyone look like they’re wearing a shrink-wrapped plastic wig.


[1] Wikipedia. High-Rise. Retrieved 25 April 2016.

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