There were walkouts at my screening of Ben Wheatley’s HIGH RISE, a provocative adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s equally incendiary novel of the same title about an isolated, modernistic apartment tower whose economically-segregated inhabitants devolve into anarchy and class warfare. At Tribeca Most of the walkouts occurred in the last thirty minutes of the film, the bulk of which consisted of a chaotic orgy of literal tribal violence and rape. I suppose some people can only put up with so much sexual assault before they decide they’ve had enough—it’s understandable. I had to resist the urge to walk out, too. But it wasn’t because I found the film’s content morally reprehensible. HIGH RISE is stone-cold boring. And although it clocked in at 119 minutes, its poor pacing made its length seem like three hours.
HIGH-RISE is a jumbled mess of a film. It ostensibly follows the figure of Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), the proverbial straight man and audience surrogate who keeps his head as his fancy new apartment complex goes to hell. Through him we are introduced to other bizarre characters and locations, chief among them Jeremy Irons as the detached architect of the building, Anthony Royal, who lives with his daft wife in a lavish garden on the roof. For the first thirty minutes HIGH-RISE feels like a lost Terry Gilliam film from his prime: bizarre sets, exaggerated characters, an oneiric sense of surrealism. I relished the design of the tower itself particularly, an Ayn Rand monolith of stone and glass with pastel interiors ripped right from the Swingin’ Sixties. But as the film progresses Laing becomes less and less crucial to the plot until he achieves complete irrelevance. As order breaks down in the building, so does the film’s narrative structure. Before long it becomes a barrage of loosely-connected scenes alternatively funny, shocking, bleak, and strange. Things just begin to happen with little to no rhyme or reason. What should have been a damning indictment of commercialism and the class system loses its teeth, becoming completely trite and baffling in the process.
SCORE: 4 out of 10
Recorded Picture Company (RPC), British Film Institute (BFI), Film4.
Nate Hood is Screen Comment’s main film critic in New York. Follow him here @NateHood257