I haven't read J.G. Ballard's novel on which High-Rise is based, but considering the book's glowing reputation, I have to assume it has more depth to it than this adaptation, one of director Ben Wheatley's most inaccessible movies to date. It's a film you'd think would have a lot on its mind, but it's only really interested in creating a single metaphor about the effect of capitalism on social structures. It's a metaphor that's clearly laid out in the first ten minutes, and though things go off the rails in the story pretty quickly, there's not much else to this movie when all is said and done.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller
Tom Hiddleston plays Robert Laing, a neurologist who moves into a futuristic tower apartment complex that seems to lure residents in and never wants them to leave: with amenities like a squash courts, a swimming pool, and its own grocery store, why would they ever want to? Maybe because all of the tenants are about to boil over, locked in a literal class system that puts the rich above the poor in every way — and decisions from on high, along with hundreds of their bursting trash bags, trickle down and induce a slow burn of insanity across the entire building. Laing has the type of personality that allows him to move between levels easily, and in his travels he befriends a sensual single mother (Sienna Miller), the building's eccentric architect (Jeremy Irons), and a failed documentarian (Luke Evans) and his mega-pregnant wife (Elisabeth Moss).
A loosely defined revolution begins, but it quickly devolves into an increasing unpleasantness, in which rape and murder become commonplace and accepted actions. Wheatley forces the audience to wallow in this filth (both moral and physical, as the trash piles up, fires break out, the building deteriorates, and the production designer really earns his paycheck) for a punishing amount of time, stretching the story to an excruciating two hours that felt more like four. Gone is the complete mastery of tone the director showcased in movies like Kill List, replaced here by a meandering stroll through chaos.
I actively enjoy putting in the effort to read what a movie is trying to say under the surface, but when the result is hammering home the idea of the same central metaphor for essentially the whole run time, it's profoundly disappointing. This is a film that has so much potential for greatness — almost as if greatness itself is straining to reach out from inside the screen — but it never quite achieves it. For me, a film either needs to have fascinating themes or characters I can engage with; unfortunately on both accounts, High-Rise is a letdown.