I really wasn’t sure whether I would go to the cinema this weekend. However, I decided that I need some fresh air – I have been binging on Daredevil Season 2 since it dropped on Friday – and went out to see the new British film High-Rise. It’s a dystopian movie (my favorite genre!) starring Tom Hiddleston (one of my favorite actors!). Let’s go!
IMDb summary: Life for the residents of a tower block begins to run out of control.
This movie wasn’t on my radar. I would have missed it if they wouldn’t have showed its trailer before the screening of Allegiant last week. High-Rise actually premiered last year at various film festivals, including Toronto International Film Festival. It will be released in the US (in limited release) in May and on video-on-demand. Since it’s a British film, it was released in the UK a bit earlier – this weekend.
I am a huge fan of contemporary British films and I have told you this many times before. If you want to read more of my reviews of UK films, I invite you to look through posts on Legend, Far From The Madding Crowd, Suffragette, and Testament of Youth.
When I saw this film’s trailer, I thought that its main idea resembled that of Snowpiercer. After having watched High-Rise, I still think that the core theme and the premise are both similar to those of Snowpiercer. However, that’s where all the similarities end: while Snowpiercer was a dystopian and sci-fi action movie, High-Rise is a dystopian art film – I would even classify it as belonging or at least partially resembling the genre of experimental/avant-garde films. To be frank, when watching these types of motion pictures, I question my mental abilities: do these films just not make any sense or am I just too stupid to understand them?.
The film’s screenplay was written by Amy Jump based on a book by J.G. Ballard. I haven’t read the book and I am not familiar with Jump’s previous work. Speaking about the story of the film, I wouldn’t say that I liked it (in the normal sense of the word), but I definitely found it interesting and I do applaud the writing.
The film’s main story was told in a flashback, so this was definitely not your typical narrative movie. The movie’s plot was also very fragmented and this fragmentation was carried out into editing (more on the montage style later).
The film revolved around a community of people living in the 40-story building, with the richest and the most privileged ones living at the top, and the poorest families at the bottom. The main character of the film, played by Tom Hiddleston, resided on the 24 or 25 floor – in the middle of the two groups.
This movie explored the themes such as human savagery (showed people ’embracing’ their animalistic nature) and social hierarchy. It also touched upon humanity’s dependence on technology and power – it basically critiqued our consumerism. I thought about the building’s community as a metaphor for our society, but I also read online that it might be a metaphor for not just any society, but for the digital age/Internet society and I can definitely see why some people, who saw this film, think that way.
Ballard wrote his book in the 1970s and also set the action of the book in the same decade. The Internet did not exist back then, so if Ballard predicted all of this, he is not far from genius.
The movie was brutal in its humor and also raised a lot of questions. For one, what was up with that kid? Was he just another metaphor of how the future generations are the ones responsible for the survival of our society? Human society?
Directing and Editing
The film was directed by Ben Wheatley. I do admire his work on High-Rise but I don’t think that I will be intentionally seeking more movies of his. He and the screenwriter of the film – Amy Jump – were also responsible for the editing of the film. High-Rise was edited in a very old-school kind of way, using montage to connect contrasting images into one synthesis, from which distinct meaning may arise. We spent a week (at least) on this topic in my film course, reading essays and watching films by Kuleshov and Eisenstein – the godfathers of montage editing.
Wheatley and Jump used a lot of intercuts of extreme close-ups in their montages and also paired up the visuals with the classical music. They also used ABBA’s S.O.S.’s in an interesting way at least twice. They also used the trick of the montage inside the montage with that kaleidoscopic sequence. All of the film’s montages were puzzling and even confusing but that was kinda their point (I think). Wheatley and Jump were trying to make the viewers think: ‘what the hell am I watching?’. And if we all question the things that we see, maybe we won’t end up like those people in the building.
A few last things on the visuals of the film: since the film was set in the 70s, the costumes, and the setting were at least partially of that period. The lift scenes with the mirrors and multiple copies of the actors were cool too. Also, the movie had a lot of sexual scenes and some disturbing imagery involving a human head right at the beginning of the film. Actually, there was plenty of disturbing scenes throughout the film as well.
These unsettling visuals and the critique of our society reminded me a bit of a different avant-garde film that I watched in the film class – Jean-Luc Godard’s Week-end from 1963. However, Godard used a lot of long takes in that film, while High-Rise was basically a feature-length music video (meaning that it was assembled from short clips into a coherent motion picture in the editing room). I also don’t think that Wheatley could ever be equal to Godard in not only his films’ quality but in how much he did for cinema in general.
The film had a huge cast of accomplished actors, who all played very unlikeable and even despicable characters – all of the inhabitant of the building were rotten people to some extent. I actually think that all sane people should feel disgusted by the characters of this film and, if they do, maybe it’s a positive sign. It shows that we still have hope as a society.
The film’s cast consisted of Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Peter Ferdinando, Reece Shearsmith, Sienna Guillory, Dan Renton Skinner, Augustus Prew and Stacy Martin. All of them did a magnificent job and acted over-the-top just enough to still seem like somewhat believable/real characters/people.
I am probably the most familiar with the previous work of Hiddleston, Evans and Irons. Hiddleston was, of course, the main reason that I was interested in the film in the first place. If you would like to watch Hiddleston in a different small scale, more artsy film (basically, the complete opposite of the Avengers), I highly suggest you check out Only Lovers Left Alive or if you want something more classic – Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is a great choice. Crimson Peak is also not bad visually (stunning, actually), even if the story is kinda mediocre. I’m really interested to see what will Hiddleston bring to Kong: Skull Island opposite Brie Larson, coming out next year.
I will talk about Jeremy Irons more in my next review of Batman v. Superman – he is playing Alfred in that film. Evans popped up on my radar with The Hobbit films and later on with Dracula Untold. He was also in the last few Fast and Furious films and will also be in Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast.
All in all, High-Rise was full of confusing and disturbing images mixed with thought-provoking and question-raising ideas. It is not an easy film to watch, but worth the time and the money.
Rate: ?/5 (I am not sure how to rate this kind of film, so I will leave it for you to decide on your own)
Trailer: High-Rise trailer