High-Rise (2016): adapted by Amy Jump from the J.G. Ballard novel; directed by Ben Wheatley; starring Tom Hiddleston (Laing), Jeremy Irons (Architect Royal), Sienna Miller (Charlotte), Luke Evans (Wilder), and Elizabeth Moss (Helen): Director Ben Wheatley absolutely nails the trippy, experimental look and story structure of so many 1970’s science-fiction movies, most notably The Omega Man and Zardoz. And screenwriter Amy Jump does about as good a job of adapting J.G. Ballard’s dystopic allegory as can be imagined.
It’s not necessarily a fun two hours of cinema (though I did have fun), but it’s a good one. The decision to stylistically evoke the era of the mid-1970’s when High-Rise was first published extends to the apparent period of the film as well: it sure looks like 1975 in London, England. Well, except for Tom Hiddleston, who looks jarringly contemporary. I wonder if this was intentional.
In an experimental apartment building/ community, things fall apart. The decision to show the viewer the end of the movie in the first scenes of the film may be High-Rise‘s only misstep. Or maybe not. Certainly, all the loose threads and thwarted attempts at closure, sympathy, and exposition suggest a movie and movie-makers uninterested in a conventional thriller format.
What you’re given instead is a sort of comic, occasionally Grand Guignol comic inferno that often plays like an intentional parody of its most obvious literary forebear, William Golding’s humourless allegory of Original Sin (English Division), The Lord of the Flies.
Hiddleston is excellent as our protagonist, and the rest of the supporting cast is also fine. There’s something horrifyingly funny in a 1970’s way about Luke Evans’ (literally) shaggy character. Sienna Miller and Elizabeth Moss also do good work as a couple of Hiddleston’s neighbours. There’s even a recurring parking lot gag that gradually goes from Seinfeld to grindhouse. Given the times we live in, High-Rise doesn’t seem particularly dated — it’s a horror-allegory with staying power. Highly recommended.