Movie Review: High-Rise

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A doctor moves into a high-rise apartment block and tries to figure out what’s going on as the inhabitants start tearing each other apart.

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Ben Wheatley, 2015

Shortly after moving into a new high-rise apartment complex on the outskirts of London, Laing (Tom Hiddleston) discovers that the building holds some serious secrets. Many of the residents take a shine to Laing immediately (especially the female residents) (I mean, I get it, it’s Tom Hiddleston, but learn some chill, movie ladies). Charlotte (Sienna Miller), a party animal who lives in the apartment above Laing, invites him to her party where he meets many of the building’s denizens from her floor down. The brutish Wilder (Luke Evans in full Gaston mode) sees both a potential friend and a potential threat in Laing, especially when his pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) and object of his lust Charlotte are both drawn to Laing. On the top floor lives the building’s architect, a man called – I shit you not – Royal (Jeremy Irons), who also sees himself reflected in Laing. But Laing has problems of his own, and a disagreement with bratty upper floor tenant and medical student Munrow (Augustus Prew) gets out of hand. As Laing’s life starts to fall apart, tensions between the upper and lower floors rise. The building rapidly becomes a self-contained nightmare factory, with the upper and lower floors at war as the upper floors control the resources and the lower floors scramble for survival.

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Tom Hiddleston looks amazing in this movie. Let’s get that out of the way right now. It’s the main reason I saw the movie, and it so delivers on that front. Director Ben Wheatley really knows how to shoot Tom Hiddleston in and out of a suit to make him look as good as humanly possible. In fact, the entirely film is shot gorgeously. Its late 60s/early 70s setting is probably necessary, but it also gives them plenty of fun to have with the costuming and sets. Props to cinematographer Laurie Rose, who did more storytelling with his gorgeous photography than the director managed. The first half of the film is compelling, watching Laing slowly fall apart as he gets sucked into the drama of the building bit by bit. But if there’s one thing High-Rise has absolutely no grasp of is subtlety. It takes no time at all to realise it’s all a metaphor for capitalism, but the film feels the need to repeatedly hit you over the head with it. Just take Royal and Wilder, men on opposite ends of the capitalist scale who are ultimately equally terrible. The descent into madness happens remarkably unrealistically fast. I spent most of the movie wondering why people didn’t just…leave. It’s not like they were cut off from society, they could probably walk for all of an hour before hitting civilisation better than the hellhole that the high-rise becomes in what seems like the span of a few days.

The film is anchored by strong performances. Tom Hiddleston carries the film ably on the back of his steely gaze and shark-like grin, even if Laing is more of a cypher than a character for most of the runtime. Luke Evans is a force of nature as Wilder – he’s equal parts hard to watch and hard to tear your eyes from. Sienna Miller was born to play roles like Charlotte. She looks like she just stepped out of the 60s anyway, and she has just the right vulnerability for it. Jeremy Irons is good too. Elisabeth Moss struggles with her accent too much to make a good impression. Most other characters get lost in the shuffle, a mad rush of people who look and sound too similar to keep track of. This muddled storytelling makes it hard to really connect with any characters – they’re all so awful, the men misogynistic rapists, the women staring dead-eyed into the abyss. The final scene of High-Rise is telling. In the end, it’s really just the fantasy of white middle-class men, who think that if the world was organised better then they could reign supreme. That’s why High-Rise fails to represent, even metaphorically, any real-world consequences of the downfall of capitalism; in the world of High-Rise, that’s just a way to get chicks. I’ve no doubt it is a faithful and well-constructed adaptation of the novel, but there’s not much joy to be found in it.

High-Rise on IMDb

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