Released in 2015, High-Rise opens with the same epic hook as the novel: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”
Then the story immediately flashes back to the day when Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moved into his new apartment in a recently completed 40-storey tower, the first building in what is supposed to be a cutting edge residential project.
Written in the mid 70s, High-Rise depicts a futuristic world, where all the conveniences and commodities are provided to tenants inside the high-rise, turning it into an isolated community. There is little reason to leave the building (except for work), and its occupants gradually build their own society with a strict hierarchy. The wealthy live on the top floors, while less well-off families occupy the lower ones. Dr Laing resides on the 25th floor, right in the middle and interacts with all the groups.
Perfectionism is the best way to describe Wheatley’s approach to details, but you won’t enjoy it for long, as the movie rapidly slithers into an orgy of violence.
Amazing camera work and visual effects is also what Wheatley can be rightly proud of, with several examples of how use visual effects and slow motion can be used well.
Wheatley’s visual style conflicts with his desire to tell the plot of the story. Every second is a as precious as gold when you have only 119 minutes of run-time and 200 pages of the novel. Brutality piles up into monotonies after the first hour. Characters’ motivations remain unclear and as Wheatley gradually runs out of time, the story becomes less and less consistent.
Production designer Mark Tildesley has done brilliant work recreating the spirit of the 1970s with retro cars, costumes, haircuts, architecture, furniture and household items. These fine details are one of the strongest points of the film. It wouln’t be overkill to supplement the movie with an illustrated fashion guide, building masterplan, supermarket product catalog, rules of conduct for tenants and a separate soundtrack CD featuring both amazing versions of Abba’s SOS that are featured.
High-Riseis nearly perfect in terms of filming, casting and many other aspects. It would have been a great movie if not for Wheatley’s desire to concentrate on the story and tell it exactly the way Ballard did 40 years ago. With howling metaphors and aged revelations, the film tells the story as if we were in the 1970s and 40 floors were still an incredible height for a building.
The idea of respectable citizens turning into savages is no longer shocking; the concept of social planning has already revealed all its dark side; Ballard’s story has become almost common and Wheatley fails to produce any added value.
When watching a screen version of an old novel you expect either a fresh perspective or some new angle or more in-depth analysis of driving factors behind action, but Wheatley doesn’t offer either. High-Riseis professionally filmed, but it is a story that has already been told many times between the 1970s and 2016.