High-Rise: Sleek, Stylish but Soulless
As you can see the facial mask simply slips off the skull.
So says surgeon Robert Laing as he performs an autopsy on a schizophrenia’s brain during the first ten minutes of High-Rise. Yep they really do show him slipping the skin right off the skull and that gives you an idea of the mixture of horror and artistry this movie regularly hits. High-Rise directed by Ben Wheatley begins with Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston at his sexiest) adjusting to what appears to be a post-apocalyptic Mad Max style dystopia in a concrete high rise. We flash back three months prior to when Laing moved into the newly constructed tower block which architect Royal (Jeremy Irons) designed specifically to be its own self contained society. It has its own store, its own fitness center, a pool, and even a rooftop garden complete with a horse where Royal’s wife Ann (Keeley Hawes) plays Shepherdess just like Marie Antoinette.
Of course like any society there are also class stratifications as well. The lower floors house the poorest residents and those with children, like documentary maker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss). The middle floors tend to include the professional classes like Laing and his lover Charlotte (Sienna Miller), while the top floors house Royal and other elites. In case we fail to see the symbolism already they make sure that Laing gets thrown out of a penthouse party where everyone else is dressed like the court of Louis XIV. The building, Royal explains, is experiencing ‘teething problems’ like frequent power outages and clogged garbage chutes. As these problems escalate pre-existing tensions become ever more violent.
Wheatley isn’t aiming for subtlety here in his adaption of J.G. Ballard’s novel but he certainly delivers great cinematography. The movie often feels like a collection of beautifully photographed vignettes. As a film itself it feels rather well…flat. Because everyone here are stock figures and representations rather than real people you can warm up to. I was reminded a lot of Snowpiercer another visually brilliant allegory about class warfare. While Snowpiercer’s storyline was even more outlandish than High-Rise, I was able to invest in the people on screen, something I did not feel this time around. Ultimately High-Rise the movie feels like its titular structure; stylistically impressive but lacking in a solid foundation.
High-Rise opens nationwide on May 13, 2016.