Film Review: High-Rise Is A Fecund Orgy Of Excess

High-Rise, in cinemas ★★★★☆

By Stuart Black Last edited 31 months ago
Film Review: High-Rise Is A Fecund Orgy Of Excess High-Rise, in cinemas 4
Tom Hiddleston and Elisabeth Moss in High-Rise.

It’s taken a long time to get this strange and unsettling satire by deranged novelist JG Ballard to the big screen. Notwithstanding an amusing teeny-bopper version of it that ended up becoming a Doctor Who storyline called Paradise Towers during the late 1980s, it probably just seemed too hard a sell.

Imagine (if you can) Location, Location, Location meets Lord of the Flies: a very peculiar parable about how people can’t be contained and what happens when you try to shape and stratify them from above. It’s really an attack on utopianism and the way architecture can border on fascism once people are reduced to mere components in a masterplan.

Producer Jeremy Thomas first tried to get a film of High-Rise off the ground in the 1970s with visionary director Nicolas Roeg (Performance, Walkabout), but it’s taken the equally nutty Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, Kill List) to finally pull it off.

And he’s done a great job — never compromising on the weirdness and creating a truly astonishing visual feast full of near continual coups-de-cinema. OK, so not all of it hangs together and there are several bum notes, but who cares? This is an eyegasm that also has a fantastic soundtrack featuring Clint Mansell and some cleverly reworked Abba by, of all people, Portishead.

The cast is secondary to all these audio and visual fireworks (perhaps ironically, Wheatley treats his actors just like a utopian architect treats his residents). The likes of Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and Reece Shearsmith pop into various tableaux before being consumed by the fecund aesthetic.

Hiddleston plays Dr Robert Laing, a man who has moved into the great concrete cloud-kisser of the title, part of a twinkling new development on the outer edge of London. He’s assigned a room in the middle of one tower and does his best to fit in with the plebs below him and the fat cats above.

The class conflict that erupts between these two social strata is both bizarre (it starts with a fight over rights to the swimming pool) and believable, especially when we read headlines of social housing in new developments getting separate entrances and second class services.

It’s a film of two halves: the first, a dreamy depiction of life in the towers as the boys at Foxton’s would no doubt have it; the second, a revolting descent into smegma-smeared savagery as the block is reduced to an apocalyptic sink estate.

Both are beautiful in their own way, but the flaw in the film is that Amy Jump’s script does not create enough logical momentum for the one to follow the other. It’s a shame because the final result is a broken-backed tale that will alienate a lot of viewers.

In all honesty, it’s probably best to take a loo break around the middle and come back pretending you’ve missed the bits that make the switch from ultra-order to maximum chaos make sense.

High-Rise is in cinemas from 18 March.

Last Updated 16 March 2016