Mix together equal parts of the films “Snowpiercer,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Only God Forgives,” and “Lord of the Flies” with a dash of “The Lobster” and “A Clockwork Orange” and you’ve got the perfect recipe for “High-Rise,” the latest movie from director Ben Wheatley. This quasi-experimental and just plain weird art house film probably has a lot of poignant things to say about society’s current socioeconomic system and humanity’s rebirth but is too bogged down in flashy visuals, disturbing violence, over the top sexual content and savage brutality. The movie is not much more than a chaotic rambling of confusing images, and it is very, very tedious to sit through.
The story is at least complex and interesting, loaded with lots of science fiction elements. It’s based on the 1975 novel of the same name by British writer J.G. Ballard. The plot focuses on the residents of a high rise skyscraper and their building-imposed class system that’s orchestrated by the architect (Jeremy Irons) who lives in the Penthouse. When the building begins to crumble, the lower class residents on the lower floors begin to rise up — and all hell breaks loose. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic as always as new resident Dr. Laing, and the movie is boosted by strong performances from Sienna Miller as his randy bohemian neighbor, Elisabeth Moss as a friendly pregnant resident, and Luke Evans as an abusive husband and filmmaker.
This movie isn’t for the squeamish. It’s over-the-top brutal and bloody and violent and more than a little disturbing (extra strong warning for all animal lovers). I wanted to like it but the surrealism was a little too heavy handed to work and it feels like nothing more than a self indulgent mess. Too bad it was just plain boring.
In “High-Rise,” Tom Hiddleston is Laing, a doctor who has recently moved into the titular high-rise building in an unnamed urban center in England. The building is a microcosm of society where the floor on which you live indicates your social rank: the aristocracy led by the architect Royal (Jeremy Irons) live on the penthouse and highest floors; the working professionals are on the floors underneath them; and the working-class families and disenfranchised live on the lowest floors. When power failures begin to plague the building, the aristocracy diverts the majority of the electricity to its uses and floors while depriving the lower classes of the energy they need. This control of resources by the rich ultimately results in revolution and upheaval within the building.
The film feels like a mash-up of “Snowpiercer,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” and “The Towering Inferno,” but is not on the level of any of those movies. I’m sure there is some biting satire and deep social commentary somewhere hidden in this latest work from director Ben Wheatley (“Sightseers,” “Kill List“), but I felt like I just missed most of it. While class divisions are certainly not unique to England — nor are tensions between the haves and have-nots — but much of this movie felt like it was talking to an audience that does not include me. Perhaps it resonates more deeply for the English. Or, perhaps, the filmmakers just aren’t very good at satire.
That said, there are some interesting ideas and visuals at work here. Hiddleston adds another solid performance to a resume that is growing more and more impressive. As the working-class Wilder, Luke Evans is a charismatic and monstrous rabble-rouser that commands the attention of the aristocracy and is instrumental in the building’s revolution. And, even if it didn’t succeed, at least the film aimed high in its attempt to say something about the state of class warfare in an interesting way.