It’s none too helpful when a film’s characters, and in this case its narrator, in no uncertain terms tell us exactly what we should think about it.
An adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel expositing on the dangers of isolation and the further entrenchment of class divisions, its titular eyesore too an evident metaphor for the fraught politics of its 70s-era setting, High-Rise, a two-hour pastiche of equally spectacular and incendiary imagery, tries to but never quite reaches the heights of its forebears Metropolis and The Time Machine.
Laing (Hiddleston) moves into the towering vestige on the outskirts of London, encountering residents Charlotte (Sienna Miller), Helen (Elisabeth Moss) and Wilder (Luke Evans), amongst others, and soon the architect and building’s founder, ensconced perpetually in his lush penthouse (Jeremy Irons). Experiencing ‘growing pains,’ the building frequently falters and flusters, leading to a lack of power primarily affecting the less wealthy, lowly-placed of the high-rises’ residents who use the opportunity to debauche its halls.
When the building’s utility worsens, everything else follows, slowly plunging its residents into chaos.
Director Ben Wheatley scatters show-stopping imagery throughout, most memorably that of a figure slowly descending the building’s façade at terminal velocity, indelible in part because this, along with the visual-aplomb of the preceding party scene, is one of the few pieces of pointed imagery which actually manages to be incidental to the plot. Content to linger on the reliably intriguing Hiddleston meandering about the loft, so much of the film and its dream-sequences to boot are passing in fancy and lackadaisically conducive to anything else that goes on in the film.
Intent on creating the impression of devolving anarchy, not even the competent performances from the varied leads distract from a mish-mash of plot developments or the adaptation’s multifarious leaps in logic, neither the sight of a horse traversing a rooftop or the immaculately-staged costume party distinctly making up for the absence of a compelling social narrative or allegorical musing which could very well have been managed with a less-hurried screenplay.
Evans among others nonetheless a thrill to behold in delectably exaggerated performances, High-Rise aspires to take you somewhere greater but like its lowly residents remains perpetually stuck in the mud.
High Rise is screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Saturday 30 June and Tuesday 2 August – for tickets head to the Festival website