Sunday, July 17, 2016

Film Review: High-Rise (2015)


Copyright: StudioCanal
Ben Wheatley knows films. His Hit List is a marvelous noir movie, developed and executed in a manner that should have made Wheatley rich and famous in a more just world. After it came out in 2011, this relatively young writer, director, and producer continued working on edgy films that only rare individuals thought they completely understood.

Now, he has branched out to the domain of big budgets and celebrity actors, while at the same time hooking a chain tied to a great literary name to his film. High-Rise is to Wheatley what The Brothers Bloom was for Rian Johnson and Godzilla was for Gareth Edwards. All of these directors showed immense talent and ability to make small films where they attained a huge level of control. Their first film on an AAA budget, however, ended up as something not exactly spectacular. 

In High-Rise, Wheatley had to fight expectations, but also a story by J. G. Ballard, one of the best writers of the 20th century and a man who is righteously adored by millions of smart people. The tale is a metaphor for the social divisions that were boiling up in the 1970’s UK and the film follows the same narrative. In it, the main character is Dr. Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston, who arrives at an ultra-modern, self-sustained (regarding regular modern needs like schools and supermarkets) residential tower. He begins his new life there, but soon the structure of both the tower and the tenants begins to splinter towards a horrific end.

Wheatley went for the Stanley Kubrick approach, shooting the High-Rise using very sterile shots that were meticulously set up. His cast works well with the environment, especially the main actor and Luke Evans as his violent and volatile counterpart. But, like the shots, the film remains strangely sterile as well, working like a clock mechanism but lacking its Cuckoo bird or something else to give it either some flavor or some edge.

Unlike his other equally strange films, the director tried to use the idea of decadence as the main emotional hook. But, this concept is very troublesome for the centerpiece element of any movie, mainly because a setting needs to be shown as true initially and then slowly slide into its dark corners. Here, all of the characters are repulsive from the get-go and get very little sympathy from the audience. This might be intentional, but it makes the transition as something the audience cares little about. A social message, if there is any, wasn’t really adapted for the time 40 years after the novel was written.

It’s good to know that Wheatley broke into the big league, but the High-Rise is not something that will provide him with many impressed fans, while Ballard aficionado can only be modestly happy that this film got made. If Johnson and Edwards are a good reference point for his future, Wheatley migth soon be getting his first offers to begin working in the Star Wars franchise.

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