Based on the novel by J.G. Ballard, Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise” gives new meaning to social class warfare. The film is the kind of fancy you might see in in a Vegas show. Filled with upscale camerawork and gorgeous production designs, “High-Rise” is largely incoherent and doesn’t quite divulge into anything worth talking about. The entire two hours is high-brow genre art that, while it looks phenomenal, is much like Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups”–superficial artistry that isn’t as meaningful as it looks.
Empty, chaotic, and messy is what can be used to describe the state of the high-rise that Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is left with. These words can also describe the movie, a cacophony of noise that is too much to bear and makes no sense. We find Laing alone in a large and almost condescending apartment building before we flash back to three months prior. Laing has just moved in and the building architect, Royal (Jeremy Irons), immediately takes interest in him. Although for what reason, it’s not quite clear. The high-rise itself is split into social and economic class, with the aristocrat-types taking up residence in the highest floors, while the poorer of the building (and those with children) live on the lowest levels.
Laing is too posh to be in a mid-level apartment and so he’s caught in the middle between the angry Wilder (Luke Evans), his very pregnant wife (Elizabeth Moss), and the woman Laing is drawn to (Sienna Miller). Laing’s visits to the Penthouse with Royal are bizarre in that there’s no clear explanation. There’s fascination, sure, but if Laing is too fancy to be in the mid-levels, then why is he? The building suffers from constant power outages, the infrastructure isn’t stable, and the more time goes on, the more the residents of the high-rise stop caring about the outside world and begin staying full time in the building. Violence and tensions rise between the residents as trash piles up, decadent parties leak into corridors, and the distance between the top and bottom grows more and more apparent.
Wheatley works from a script by Amy Jump, and while the production level is high, the film’s story and execution is far too pretentious to be taken seriously as a narrative and discussion on economic and social hierarchy. The plot and characters are all over the place, and we never really get to know any of them beyond a surface level. Elegant style comes off in an exceedingly pompous way and it doesn’t help that the two-hour film moves at a glacial pace. “High-Rise” is a highbrow genre art film that is ultimately unappealing. Its attempts at sophistication fall short and its story is too chaotic and laid out in a way that is incoherent. Its superficiality makes it hard to take the class warfare seriously as it’s clear that the film is too busy rolling around in its outbreak of violence between the fictional residents than it is willing to meaningfully explore its own point.
“High-Rise” is a highbrow genre art film that is ultimately unappealing. Its attempts at sophistication fall short and its story is too chaotic and laid out in a way that is incoherent.