HIGH-RISE Fantastic Fest Movie Review
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump, based on the novel by J.G. Ballard
Actors: Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons.
Ben Wheatley is one of best genre directors. His movie Kill List is still regarded as one of the best horror movies of the new century and most recently he blew everyone’s mind with the pychedelic Field In England. But those have all been pretty low-key and low-budget affairs with mostly unknown actors.
But now Mr. Wheatley is stepping up his game and recruiting A-list actors like Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons and Elizabeth Moss while adapting J.G. Ballard allegorical novel, High-Rise.
Set in an a vague 1970’s England, the movie follows Hiddleston’s Dr. Robert Laing as he movies into a self-contained high rise apartment building. Meant to be the first of five buildings, it truly has everything from a grocery store, pool, gyms, gardens. Among the residents are the anarchic documentarian Richard Wilder (Evans), his neglected wife, Helen (Moss), and socialite, Charlotte Mellville.
Despite being plagued by structural issues, the community of the apartment is already well established. There are very specific rules to follow and not unsurprisingly, people have quickly started making cliques based on what floor you live in. As it stands, the poorer residents are in the lower levels while the richest, including the architect Thomas Royal (Irons) have extreme luxury such as a well-manicured garden and even a horse.
The movie mainly follows the decay of this micro society as a tragic death brings to light the disproportionate power structure within the apartment building. Seemingly over night, the apartment devolves into a Lord of the Flies-esque with resources becoming scarce and people turning violent on each other.
In the wake of the years-long economic crisis we have been in, the Occupy Wall Street movement and the disappearance of the middle class this feels like a very contemporary movie and the allegory really works. There are literal class wars after everything goes to hell in the apartment building. And while the movie’s dialogue gets a little too on the nose about its themes, there’s some truly horrifying scenes that show just how easy it is for society to go down hill when there’s no order. There’s even some very trippy scenes when things get to their lowest that show the mental toll.
And while this movie is billed a Tom Hiddleston movie, this is through and through Luke Evans’ movie. The man is a powerhouse as the slightly unhinged Wilder. He is charming as hell and the way he takes command of the room is impressive. He is one of the people that lives in the lower floors and so always has a chip on his shoulder and doesn’t want to obey the rules and becomes a source of trouble for the ever-crumbling society.
With this bigger budget, Wheatley’s direction is in top form here. He takes from everything that he’s done up to this point and combines horror, comedy and psychedlia seamlessly to create this mindbending tale.