High Rise (2015)

high1.jpg2016.93: High Rise (Amazon VOD)

About the only thing this film seems to get ‘right’, that at least makes it interesting enough to stomach all the way through its interminable two hours, is its cool-1970s aesthetic; the sets, the costumes, the hair styles, its all like some kind of strange alternate-1970’s universe, as if its all set a few years after A Clockwork Orange. Its a beautiful, funky horror. Which rather makes it a curio when you’re watching it. The problem is, most of the time you’re watching it wondering just what the hell is going on. Narrative is not Ben Wheatley’s strength, clearly, as evidenced on his earlier film A Field in England, another film I loathed. Like that film, this film seems to have its fans, but this s just not for me- I thought it was horrible.

Basically, its a hipster-arthouse film that is all style over substance, and fails to have any genuine coherence or narrative, simply glorifying in a great (wasted) cast and that 1970s aesthetic. I don’t mind ambiguity or ‘working’ at enjoying a film,  but I shouldn’t be watching a film wondering just what the hell is going on, or why nobody just simply leaves the bloody tower block when the shit hits the fan. Internal logic is not this films strength.

I ‘get’ that its all a social commentary, based on a book from 1975 , with the tower-block acting as a microcosm of society as author J G Ballard saw it at the time, but as the chaos ensues and the ‘society’ breaks down due to tower-block power-cuts and social conflict between the haves and the have-nots, the film is so intent on being clever and faithful (I presume) to the book that it fails to function as a proper film. Why are everybody such raving sociopaths? The rich and the poor alike just seem to degenerate into morally-bereft thugs, rapists and robbers.

Just why does nobody leave the building when everything falls apart (the outside world ticking by nicely)? Nominal ‘lead’ Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) has an affair with one woman, then another, and doesn’t seem at all perturbed when his first lover is beaten and raped or his second enlisted as a slave to the ‘masters’ in the penthouse suites. No matter what bloody chaos ensues, the police never turn up. A guy throws himself off the building, women are brutalised and raped. Its like there is no law. Its all so very inconsistent and illogical.  Typical Ben Wheatley.

Frankly, Snowpiercer, a film that told pretty much the same story but replaced the tower block with a train, did it all so much better, and managed to tell a coherent and interesting story too. High Rise looks beautiful and has an at times arresting soundtrack (Abba’s SOS will never seem the same again) but its a horrible mess of a film.

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5 thoughts on “High Rise (2015)

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    I wouldn’t judge the book by this terrible film: Ballard’s novel – as with most of his work – is chilly and steadily paced, and makes the breakdown seem both shocking and inevitable. ‘Sober’ is the word I’d chose.

    Which is not a word I’d apply to this adaptation. It starts when th everything turned up to 10, and then goes louder from there. I didn’t even think the 70s look was that good, because it looked too clean and digital.
    Like a design website.

    And the novel gives its protagonist a subconscious goal that’s quite shocking reveal when it comes to the surface. For some reason, for a film trying SO HARD to shock, that’s been ditched.

    Why am I writing? You’ve nailed it. Terrible film. You’re lucky, you saw it for free. I bought it. Still, managed to sell it on.

    1. I must say, that’s beauty of Amazon Prime- there have been so many films that I watched and find myself thinking “thank goodness I didn’t buy the Blu-ray” because in the old days, I was a sucker for hype and trying out discs on a whim (especially when films get praised like High Rise was). I remember when this came out at the cinema actually being tempted by the cast, the intriguing premise and those ecstatic reviews. But of course it was Ben Wheatley and after that A Field in England rubbish I treat his work like the plague.

      Didn’t realise Ballard’s book was so different/superior. Sounds interesting.

  2. Yeah, I was thoroughly disappointed by this also. I liked the look, the cast, the reviews… but it feels so shockingly aimless. Actually, it feels like someone buggered it up in the edit. I’m sure that’s not the case — I’m sure it was always this incoherent — but you feel like there must be a good movie to be made here, out of these ideas and these events. One with a story.

    1. God yeah, I detest films like this with craft and talent behind it but no story. Some directors seem to think style and a pretence of sophistication and ‘art house’ credentials is enough. And some critics buy into it, damn their hides. Thank god it was a feebie on Prime.

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