There’s an entire planet contained within the walls of the uberexclusive apartment tower that lends Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise its setting. A guy could conceivably go his whole life without needing to leave the building, and that’s exactly what invariably happens to its many tenants. Hungry residents can find a full grocery store on floor fifteen and a full spa five floors up. For recreation, a body can unwind with anything from coke-fueled bacchanalia to simply tossing crap out the window and watching as it smashes on the ground. For any and all services needed, there’s bound to be someone in the building who can provide it, whether that’s schoolteaching or medical counsel.
Dr. Robert Laing, the middle-class surrogate played by an irresistible Tom Hiddleston, won’t be the one to offer it, however; he explains that he’s the sort of doctor nobody ever needs, and the extent of his professional acumen that the audience witnesses stops at peeling the face off of a severed head like bologna from a school lunch. There’s something a little off about Dr. Laing when he first moves into the titular structure at the film’s outset, but any quirks pale in comparison to the funhouse of depravity and savagery that awaits him. All it takes is a few disruptions — a power outage here, a gate-crashed pool party there — to ignite a full-blown class war between the rigidly stratified social classes that fill each floor. Before you can say “violent overthrow of the capitalist machinery”, the film has devolved into a hyperstylized riff on Lord of the Flies (or that one episode of Hey Arnold, for the less literarily-inclined among us).
Wheatley sticks to his guns, both literally and figuratively, and risks alienating audience members unable to get on the film’s wavelength on both counts. By retaining J.G. Ballard’s opening scene from the source novel, in which our hero calmly cooks a domesticated dog’s severed leg, Wheatley plainly states that he’s not waiting around for anyone. His get-on-or-get-off ethic results in some Counselor-level baroque dialogue, a major turn-off for all but a self-selecting faction of viewers. (Your tolerance for a housing application being described as “Byronic” will effectively determine your overall enjoyment of the film.) Some pleasures are simpler, such as Jeremy Irons as the archly villainous architect of the structure, who croaks out bons mots while sequestered in the isolated top-floor biome. But for the most part, High-Rise is destined for the same small but passionately vocal following as Wheatley’s previous perversions of genre.
Rating: 3.5 Bourgeoisie-Smashing Burritos Out Of 5
High-Rise currently does not have a release date, but is planned to release in 2015.