TIFF 2015 Review | ‘High-Rise’ Is An Impressive Erection

The most disturbing part of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is how utterly normal its apocalypse is. Society slowly collapses into brutality and hedonism and anarchy and it’s just another day, as sane or insane as any other. Ho-hum. Pass the plate of dog, please? Who’s next in line for a lobotomy?

On the eve of Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power in Britain’s Conservative Party comes this vile and cynical dystopia, courtesy of novelist J.G. Ballard. Tom Hiddleston plays Dr. Laing, who moves into a posh high-rise apartment complex in 1975. The building is completely self-sufficient, with its own supermarkets and gymnasiums and its own upper and lower classes, whose petty rivalries gradually get meaner and meaner. A trip to the pool for a children’s birthday party, only to discover that it has been usurped for bourgeois flouncing, is only one of the last straws. The poor are revolting, and the rich aren’t much better.

Before long this high-rise becomes enveloped in garbage and hallway fires and looting, and Dr. Laing wants no part of it. Oh, he won’t move. In fact, nobody does. There is literally nothing keeping anybody in the building other than the general sense that this imploding microcosm is totally natural. The orgies, natural. The murders, natural. Nobody is afraid and no one is a victim for long because eventually they’ll be the abuser again someday.

It is that very righteous political rage that no longer has quite the same power (one hopes) that it once had. The fear-mongering logical extremity that turns free market capitalism into capital-h Hell doesn’t feel shocking, it feels right around the corner. We are no longer on the ground floor of High-Rise, we are somewhere near the middle, just one murdered pet or casual beating away from absolute madness. And there’s something almost reasonable about madness. Say what you will, but at least no one in Wheatley’s phantasmagoric asylum is being turned down at the sex parties.

Ben Wheatley films High-Rise with that same distinct air of inevitability. This was not a normal world to begin with, it was an insulated and faulty structure full of miserable saps who were lying to themselves all along. That tone, combined with an apparent intent to keep this slide into the inferno as imperceptible as possible, does rob High-Rise of some of its dramatic ebb and flow. This is a leisurely drive into social collapse, and if that doesn’t freak you out then nothing in this movie will, and maybe it’s already too late. 

Maybe we are too far gone. Maybe we really are living in the high-rise right now. There’s no point in leaving or even criticizing. Just watch the movie about the world falling apart as the world falls apart and get comfortable, because this twisted erection isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s a fun house mirror that shows us how warped we will be in two days time, and that’s as incredible as it is sad.

[Correction: The original review indicated that High-Rise takes place during Margaret Thatcher’s reign as Britain’s Prime Minister. This was an error. It takes place as she becomes the head of Britain’s Conservative Party.]

Images Via Recorded Picture Company

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.


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