Wheatley is a mastermind and one of our most crucial directors. His work is always, without a doubt, unusual, different, and confident in showing the terror of humanity. A gifted genius who wields his camera with a unique view of the world we live in, he has crafted some of the most incredible films to date including the hilarious black comedy Sightseers, the terrifying Kill List, and hallucinogenic piece A Field in England.
This Friday, his next feature High-Rise takes to the skies with lofty ambition, but will it stand or topple over?
Based on the acclaimed book by J.G . Ballard, High-Rise revolves around Dr. Robert Laing who is part of an exclusive residence, in the hopes that he’ll be sheltered away from the outside world and enjoy a life on anonymity. However, his solitude dreams are shattered when the weird inhabitants of the titular place start swooping down on his alone time and he has to conform to the statures in place that are quickly spiralling out of control.
With Amy Jump, Wheatley’s wife and long-time collaborator, adapting the cult book to the big screen, the product is alive with deep themes and social-political commentary about hierarchy and the class system. Here, it is physically notable: The lower classes strewn at the bottom, the upper-classes snootily looking down from their luxurious apartments at the top, and middle classes lurking right there – in the middle.) This situation is held by the threads of power, food, and levels that are promptly shattered when a swimming party runs amok in the building. When the electricity cuts off, those within breakdown into tribal mess and separate themselves by their classes that leads to full blown war breaking loose.
Despite the hammering home of the depravity on display, making the film momentarily drag in pacing and story-telling, High-Rise is teaming with juicy philosophy and psychology that meld into this intricate portrayal of isolation and animal instincts running rampant with enough applied pressure. Feminism, racism, sexism, classism, and more – they are all torn down within Wheatley’s glorious work.
Leading the move is the ever impressive Tom Hiddleston, who is everyone’s man of the moment with this leading role and the one in BBC’s The Night Manager. Behind his devastating blue eyes is the most startling character; one who doesn’t take sides but charmingly adapts to them for survival. Unabashed by the feral qualities in different quadrants, Laing’s acclimatises to his surroundings in an almost crazed way, all the while staying somewhat calm on the outside, making him almost psychopathic in places despite showing remorse for being a somewhat catalyst to High-Rise’s events.
Hiddleston is, predictably, genius in his leading role but it’s Luke Evans that steals the film as the brutish and animalistic Richard Wilder. The Welsh actor who many will know from The Hobbit series and that dreadful Dracula Untold movie is utterly impeccable here. Wilder is somewhat of a gift to actors that Evans’ opens splendidly. Capturign the primal heart that races through Wilder’s blood-stream, giving him a roaring sense of red raging injustice, Evans’ also balances this despicable man with a charisma that you’ll find in many houses across the country: A violent working-class man who feels it is his duty to tear down the social constructs. Evans makes him approachable, likeable, and even a hero in places – despite giving in to his primal urges and being an utter bastard, acting contemptibly against those around him. The actor is a ball of energy that steals every scene he is in as Wilder races to the “Garden of Eden” at the top of High-Rise.
Hues of brown, green, and blue populate this alluring aesthetic that echoes the remnants of the seventies era. With the retro admiration for block patterns or floral spirals, the production masterfully captures the ghost of a by-gone era. Each level has a character that establishes the hierarchy and each colour used is specifically designed to honour the production appearance – from the chaos of colours on the bottom floor to the abundance of whites at the top, it’s a cleverly visual film. The setting – a decaying tower block – is made even more visceral by this historical setting as the rise of Social Media makes it tricky for us to feel isolated. Flared trousers and ABBA soundtracks High-Rise may contain (including a well-crafted cover of SOS by Portishead), but the era allows the dread of abandon to filter through. It also allows Wheatley and his team to craft a stylish and visionary piece that gifts the viewer redolent scenes that juxtapose one another in a mirror image of peace and war, rich and poor, light and dark, up and down. Surreal elements, part of the course when watching a Wheatley movie, only add to the pitiless escalation that’ll bewilder and entrance wholly.
An acting troupe of excellence help embellish the almost satirical elements of High-Rise which includes the likes of Sienna Miller, Elizabeth Moss, and Keeley Hawkes at their chaotic best. The film is already dividing audience members and critics which always denotes thematically thick and plentiful film that resonates completely. Long after viewing, you’ll be toying with your thoughts: The captivating scenes will roll constantly through your mind, the rage filled eyes of Evans will lock with your transgressive soul, and the thought of humanity going berserk over power outages, a tin of paint, and a few cases of wine will never truly leave your mind. Not without out it’s darkly comic moments either, High-Rise is an experience in every sense of the word.
Is this the director’s masterpiece? Uneasily (as I have so much appreciation for Sightseers that I dare stray from my favourite,) I’d say it’s his most accessible yet complex movie to date, where all the elements slot in a crooked manner. As grandiose as High-Rise is, it certainly solidifies Ben Wheatley’s stance in the film industry – a bold and daring filmmaker refusing to bow his films to critical consensus.
In many ways, all of Wheatley’s work are masterpieces. But High-Rise certainly towers greatly.