High-Rise (2015)

(On Cable TV, January 2017) I read J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel so long ago that I had no real expectations for the movie adaptation except “go ahead and do justice to the source material’s insanity”. Yet I was disappointed. The first half-hour of High-Rise is simply fantastic, as our protagonist moves into a high-rise apartment building that’s nearly a world upon itself. But there’s madness in the building, and it doesn’t take the unsolicited advances of his upstairs neighbour to figure it out—before long, the building has stratified itself in upper-versus lower classes, with violence and anarchy (and, heaven forbid, uncollected heaps of trash) being the new normal. The setup is terrific, but the execution of the premise less so—basic world-building details don’t make sense (the decision to set the film in the seventies gives and takes away), the film seems to lose itself in less interesting subplots and our protagonist eventually seems to be nothing more than a bystander to a brutal social breakdown. While he eventually copes with it (as shown by the brilliantly deranged first scene), the film literally doesn’t go any further. The satire is unevenly handled and while some of the quotes are delicious, the film itself seems to be looking for something to do in its second half. Too bad; High-Rise has a sense of surreal anarchy that occasionally works well. At least there are a few good performances in the mix. Tom Hiddleston doesn’t do much but looks good doing so, while much of the same can also be done with Sienna Miller. Meanwhile, Elisabeth Moss does have a more challenging role. This is my first film from writer/director Ben Wheatley and while I’m not completely displeased by the results, it’s not necessarily a slam-dunk that will lead me to seek out the rest of his filmography. In the meantime, High-Rise doesn’t embarrass the source novel, but it doesn’t do it full justice either.

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