Movie Review: 'High-Rise' (2015)

There are movies you watch and wonder how and why on earth they were made, such is the story of director Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise”. An adaptation, based on the novel of the same name by J.G. Gallard, “High-Rise” is a relentless look at the decadence and moral depravity that consumes a buffet of humanity living in a tower block during the 1970’s. The high-rise features 3 basic levels: lower, middle and upper; each floor representing the financial class of those who live there.

As a result, the high-rise contains a cauldron of financially widespread inhabitants, as all of London’s various strata live under the same roof, just on different levels. Inevitably, tensions ignite.

As fights over the use of the community swimming pool, accusations of unlawful behavior being visited upon the lower levels without any consequences and power outages that besiege the building; accounting for some of the complaints lobbied.

New to all of these fraught dynamics is the domicile’s latest resident, the reserved doctor, Laing (an enigmatic Tom Hiddleston), who’s recovering from the recent loss of his sister. While he is there to sort of guide viewers through the workings of this strange world, it becomes clear that he is no ordinary protagonist.

Like everyone else in this bizarre story, he is also a bit “off”. He has a detachment from reality and the human condition that winds up making him a prime candidate for life in the high-rise.

As Laing finds himself rejected from the highest echelons of tower society (they consider him below them) he takes up an acquaintanceship with the denizens of the floor level, where he does not quite fit in either. Despite being a doctor, one of the pinnacle careers of current real-life existence, his career lands him in the middle class district, where he is not held in high regard by either the upper, or lower levels. Rejected by both groups, he is placed in an emotional free fall that sees him grow more and more desensitized to the world around him.

For 2 hours, viewers watch as this crumbling civilization is torn apart by people who behave as though they are feral. The various levels turn on each other, punishing those around them by turning their environment into a war zone; their idea of warfare to throw raving parties. As the wheels come off the proverbial cart (had they ever been on?), the world of the high-rise devolves into utter chaos as absolute wickedness takes the helm.

As a whole “High-Rise” is a sickening odyssey devoid of a single likable character. With everyone in the building behaving with no redeemable qualities whatsoever, there is no one to care about and that is the biggest problem the movie faces. That situation only grows more dire as its characters devolve into even worse versions of themselves. 

While the film’s synopsis hints that the issue of moral decay solely pertains to the rich, it is worth mentioning that every single level in the tower is shown behaving in sadistic fashion, and wallowing in their narcissistic madness. The children are the film’s only victims, suffering for their parents’ inability to want or care for anyone other than themselves.

As the horrors escalate, Wheatley’s direction takes front and center. As he demonstrated with his 2011 effort “Kill List”, Wheatley has a creative directorial eye that is impressive. Aided by the spellbinding cinematography of Laurie Rose, the film is given the appearance of something worthwhile. Though it all turns out be a well-appointed shell for a hollow interior and both Wheatley and Rose’s talent is wasted on a story that is repulsively irredeemable.

The same applies to its impressive cast of talent. Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and an especially wasted Luke Evans, each saunter around the film ready to do something and never get the chance to, all playing on the precipice of a mania that has nowhere to go.

What “High-Rise” presents is the truthful notion that no matter the social stratum, all people are susceptible to the base instincts of their primal nature, which is to be grotesque. And the attempt to blame any other source for the behavior shown is simply, frivolous.

As with most movies, it does sport one redemptive attribute: the inclusion of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of ABBA’s “SOS”. Word to the wise: spare yourself the movie and enjoy the song.

Filming debauchery is a tricky task and the inundation of it on this level is downright cringe worthy. Wheatley never gives the audience room to breathe or care.

As the walls close in, there is no escape from the clutches of this vile world, and the thought of sticking with movie to the end grows more and sickening. Like the smoke addled air depicted in the film, one can easily choke on its lack of substantive oxygen. 

Completing this movie was one of the most difficult viewing tasks, in recent memory. It is an experience that tests all endurance. The only motivation that kept it worth finishing was the knowledge that once it was over, there would be an opportunity to warn off potential viewers by being armed with all of the facts. Rating: 1/10