High-Rise Blu-ray Review


Living in a London high-rise is hardly something to aspire to.

Sure, the views are great for the folk at the top, but the boxed up design and basic premise of hundreds of people living on top of each other makes these look and feel like some sort of voluntary prison for the mentally deranged.

And that’s before you’ve met the neighbours.

It wasn’t always this way though; in fact, gargantuan estates were supposed to be part of our utopian future when they were dreamt up in the sixties and seventies.

Before anyone had ever lived in these concrete jungles.

Still, at least this awful architecture inspired J G Ballard’s classic novel High-Rise, which maverick British director Ben Wheatley has now turned into a deliciously dark film.

Set in some imagined future delivered from the seventies, we’re introduced to the newest resident of the futuristic high-rise lifestyle, Dr Robert Laing.

Laing is an uncomplicated soul who’s decided the high-rise is for him, mostly so he can escape from the painful memories of his past.

The good doctor also likes the self-contained nature of his living unit, the convenience of having a gym and supermarket on site and the anonymity he can find living the high-rise way.

Of course, this doesn’t last.

It’s not too much of a problem when your Sienna Miller shaped neighbour decides you should be friends, with all the benefits this entails, but the hierarchical nature of the high-rise means the haves live on the top floors, while the have not’s occupy the lower ones.

And when things start to break down inside the building, battle lines are drawn between those at the top, and those at the bottom.

Stuck in the middle is the upwardly mobile Laing; not truly belonging to either set, the doctor’s self-contained nature allows him to navigate the class war going on around him as the insular high-rise society starts to tear itself apart.

Where do you start with a film like High-Rise?

I first saw this at last year’s London Film Festival and, having never read the book, was able to watch it free from any hope and expectation.

And for me, High-Rise was the best film of the festival, even if there were one or two I liked more.
Wheatley sets the dark tone in his opening scenes, as Tom Hiddleston’s Laing graphically redefines how dog really is a man’s best friend.

We follow Laing on his journey through the high-rise, as we observe how the human condition descends into a feral state when given half a chance.

The sets, costumes and score are all perfectly conceived, transporting you to what people in the seventies thought the future was going to look like.

And the terrific ensemble cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss and Luke Evans amongst others help flesh out this imaginary world so you actually start to believe in it.

But it’s the theme of a class divide and the inevitable conflict that remains, something that is probably more relevant today than when Ballard first wrote his novel.

The high-rise is our society in microcosm, with the rich quite literally living on top of the working classes – all the while, siphoning off the best for themselves until this way of life inevitably falls apart.

At least that’s the message I took from High-Rise, though other messages are available.

One thing’s for sure though – you’ll never want to live in a high-rise after watching this modern masterpiece.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

July 2016