|'The apartment block of the title inhabits a location somewhere between Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson, feeling like the unsettling bastard child of the Overlook and the Grand Budapest'.|
Of the two Ben Wheatley films I'd seen prior to watching High-Rise, I enjoyed one a great deal (Sightseers) and wanted to enjoy the other a lot more than I did (A Field In England). In these simple terms, the director's adaptation of J. G. Ballard's identically-named 1975 novel falls far closer to the latter than the former.
For the first half of his film, Wheatley constructs a surreal futuristic version of 1970s Britain which feels almost timeless. The apartment block of the title inhabits a location somewhere between Stanley Kubrick and Wes Anderson, feeling like the unsettling bastard child of the Overlook and the Grand Budapest. Garish wallpaper patterns meet brutalist architecture, whilst the self-contained nature of the tower block - with a supermarket, gym, swimming pool and even places of work for the inhabitants - gives the sense that Wheatley is simultaneously looking forwards as well as back. Throw in elements such as a 17th Century period fancy dress party held by the upper class residents, and High-Rise feels ingeniously uprooted from any particular place in time.
The focal point for much of our time in the building is Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), whose reasons for wanting the isolation he hopes his time in the high-rise will bring are hinted at but never made clear. Laing is the kind of role for which you feel Hiddleston deserves to be remembered when the time comes to look back over his career. His performance is excellent, providing a compelling presence throughout the film, even as Wheatley's direction becomes ever more purposefully erratic.
The social commentary of High-Rise is abundantly clear from very early on, with the traditional class structure made literal. Those at the top of the pecking order inhabit the upper floors, the working classes live nearer to the ground, with the middle class residents - including Laing - situated between the two. Despite perhaps being an obvious conceit, Wheatley makes it work brilliantly for the first hour, introducing a cast of intriguing inhabitants from across the hierarchical triptych the director paints.
As the rules within the tower block break down, however, so does Wheatley's film. It's a deliberate act, with the director offering scant narrative for much of the closing half of the film. Whilst reflecting the anarchic and hedonistic nature of what is unfolding on screen, it nonetheless makes High-Rise an increasingly frustrating watch with Wheatley posing more questions than he answers.
As the discord between the upper and lower factions of the concrete edifice come to a head as Royal (Jeremy Irons) and Wilder (Luke Evans) - the respective figureheads of each group, although not necessary the wielders of power each assumes the other to be - come face to face, it's difficult to know exactly what we should be feeling, so chaotic has the journey been to reach that point. It undercuts whatever message Wheatley is hoping to put across, and leaves the second section of High-Rise feeling much less satisfying than the first.