What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is an old-school British movie, the likes of which Channel 4 in the UK used to show some 20+ years ago. Back then it would have been on late at night and most people would have referred to it as odd, weird or strange. Nowadays of course it’s released into cinemas and labelled surreal or avant-garde.
High-Rise is based on the cult 1975 JG Ballard book about a state-of-the-art residential tower whose residents have a collective nervous breakdown, because of the building. Director Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, Kill List) and long-time writing partner Amy Jump have taken Ballard’s book and transposed it to film.
Tom Hiddlestone (Thor, The Avengers) stars as Laing, a relative newcomer to the building and, seemingly, one of the normal ones. Life goes on but begins to get stranger and stranger as the inhabitants begin to breakdown. It seems that the architect and owner of the building Royal, played by Jeremy Irons, has made the building too well. It does too much and so people have been left to their own devices and it turns out those devices are debauchery and violence, in a nutshell.
The film is kept in the 1970’s, though it’s not a 1970’s we know and Hiddlestone seems to stand out in his crisp grey suit. Particularly when compared to the ‘savage’ of the building Wilder, played by Luke Evans (Fast & Furious 6, Dracula Untold). There’s a who’s-who of British actors and actresses throughout the movie and all perform admirably.
As the story went on though I found myself getting a little bored. The time when the residents begin to go into meltdown is told in a montage, which is a shame. Before that it’s an odd mix of sideburns and flock wallpaper. The latter half of the film, when everyone’s lost the plot, just didn’t really grab me, I felt like I’d got it, perhaps earlier then I was supposed to, which then made the film feel slow.
Some of the direction is very, very good however: the swan dive from the tower in super slow-motion is beautifully done, as is the kaleidoscope-killing and the shots in the dark lift. I sort of got a sense of a much-less violent Clockwork Orange, though I feel this was maybe because of the times the movies were set in. Ultimately though, this is just a little too weird, even for me.