Graced with a much larger budget and a much more starry cast than his more modest earlier films, Ben Wheatley still manages to pack a punch to the guts in the visual stunning yet visceral High Rise. This surreal dystopia, based on the J.G. Ballard novel of the name delights and disgusts in equal measure, blurring the lines between dark humour and horror to harmonious effect. However, though this film is a feast for the eyes (albeit a unsavoury one), it may not to your particular taste. Dog or horse anyone?
The film opens just as Ballard's 1975 novel does, with the line “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months”, perhaps one of the greatest opening lines of genre writing and now genre film-making. It is here we are introduced to Tom Hiddleston's devilishly handsome, cool as ice and charming anti-hero. He is dressed in rags, covered in paint and blood and barbecuing a dog. Setting the tone for the madness to come.
We then rewind back three months. Here we see the high rise as it should be and as it was, the utopian paradise for the young professional or family with a gym, swimming pool and a supermarket on the 15th floor. Hiddleston's Laing is a young doctor, who moves into the 25th floor, a floor for the fairly well off). Laing quickly being completely seduced by the decadent high rise high life and the strange people who inhabit there.
Amongst the inhabitants we have sultry siren Charlotte (Sienna Miller), a failed documentary film-maker Wilder (a frighteningly macho Luke Evans), his heavily pregnant and depressed wife (Elizabeth Moss), pedantic orthodontist (Wheatley regular Reece Shearsmith) and the architect and “midwife” of the High Rise Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons).
Soon after moving in Laing begins to realised that life in the high rise isn't all bourgeois parties, dancing with air hostesses, squash game and discounts of French language books. Royal explains to Laing that the building was conceived as a “as a crucible for change” yet Laing is instantly aware of the hierarchy and class conflict is the high rise. The lower floors house the poorer tenants yet the top houses the building's aristocracy with Royal's wife parading round on a horse in their beautiful country house garden on the 40th floor as the bottom floors are suffering with no electricity. When the lower classes begin to rebel and the quality of life slowly beings to diminish and become feral, Laing finds himself in the safest position, in the middle of the building as the professional working class.
Previously High Rise has been deemed as un-filmable. Producer Jeremy Thomas, who produced Cronenberg's adaptation of Ballard's other cult novel Crash, has clung to the project for 30 years, before finding Wheatley at its helm and Amy Jump at its script. And the wait paid off. This immaculate adaptation gets right into the cruel mind of Ballard and replicates it's tone perfectly.
Stylistically the film is stunning. Everything is perfect; the futuristic yet retro set design, Clint Mansell's looping score (including a haunting Portishead cover of ABBA), Laurie Rose's steely cinematography and the meticulous, choreographed editing from Wheatley and Jump themselves. The look of High Rise is Kubrickan through and through, with many noticing the likeness to A Clockwork Orange. In terms of tone and feeling however it's all Wheatley, with High Rise emanating the same genre-bending style of Kill List and A Field In England and the madness from Down Terrace.
With visceral scenes such a skull dissection, increasingly dizzying violence and a lack of emotion from most characters, audiences and critics alike are deeming High Rise as the most divisive film of the year, and much like Wheatley's previous work it is a true love it or hate it film. You'll either leave the cinema wanting to erase the last two hours out of your mind or wanting the re-live it and return to the High Rise again and again. And me? Well I can't wait until my next visit!
High Rise is now showing at FACT. See times and book your tickets here.