High-Rise from Magnolia Pictures

Previewed September 2015 at Toronto International Film Festival

Opened in Toronto and Vancouver May 20

3.5 out of 5 stars

Putting the disturbing in dystopian, Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise takes a sobering look at class structures, most specifically between the haves and the have-somewhat-lesses.

As the title suggests, the setting is a unique self-contained high-rise building, where a high society reclusive architect stays isolated even within a strictly regimented and segmented assortment of residents, sorted in ascendance by their social standing.

If you wanted that spelled out, consider the architect’s name, Mr. Royal (Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons). Royal resides far above the surreal assortment of milieus bustling beneath his exotic penthouse.

Arriving at the residence with unforeseen bad timing is Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), who is just making his plunge into high society with this move. While that life quickly proves to be filled with perks, it is even faster to reveal the downside of separated classes once the building starts to fail and those classes decide they want more for themselves.


The entire proceedings have a feel of cutting-edge movies from the late 1960s and the early 1970s, which is apropos, given that the film is based on the 1975 novel of the same name from J.G. Ballard. His work has leapt from page to screen before (Crash, with David Cronenberg, and Empire of the Sun with Steven Spielberg). This film is a little spooky as despite the age of the subject material, it catches some of the anxiety going on in the polarized U.S. right now – especially some of the violence that has erupted during the political rallies.

It also has a feel of Kubrick or Tarantino in the surrealism, violence and bawdiness. High-Rise really reminded me of movies I saw growing up on late night TV, which would never see the light of day on pasteurized network television now. Interesting how progressive Canadian TV really was 30 or 40 years ago.

What makes this movie watchable are the talented cast members playing often intense and complex characters.

As Laing, Hiddleston (2015’s Hank Williams biopic I Saw The Light, Loki in Marvel’s Thor movies) is a rudder steering through the fray as emotionlessly as he is able, but he is unable to avoid circumstances as they begin to unravel. Hiddleston onscreen has an air and charisma about him that might lend itself to his stepping into Daniel Craig’s shoes, if James Bond remains as he has on film for the past few decades.

Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss is haunting as a pregnant wife left entirely out of her husband’s obsessions (Luke Evans as Wilder, a boisterous filmmaker who has seen better days).

Haunting could also apply to the final few scenes for Sienna Miller as she portrays the aloof seductress who is unable to fend off Wilder’s craven interest in her. As the world within the high-rise collapses, the film is far more apocalyptic Mad Max than it is the swagger and martini parties of the privileged in Mad Men.

In a Director’s Statement provided in the press kit, Ben Wheatley writes, “I have endeavoured to marry the emotional intensity of Down Terrace and Kill List, the comedy of Sightseers and the formal exercises of A Field in England. I hope you find it boldly funny and invigoratingly shocking.”

Therein lies the subjectivity of humour, most especially satire. I didn’t find much boldly funny, or even mildly funny. But High-Rise certainly keeps your attention, as it speaks to one possible outcome if the one per cent ever finds the worms turning below them and rising to claim what they feel they are owed.

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