I had the pleasure of seeing Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise at the Ohio 24-Hour Science Fiction Marathon in Columbus back in March. The crowd I saw it with wasn’t a group of fellow film critics, but rather a group of tired, sweaty, half-drunk sci-fi fans, which explained the constant groans and the small amount of applause after the credits compared to the roaring applause after most of the films that screened that day. And it’s no surprise really.
I was one of the few that applauded at the end, and I tried my best to make it known. In a theater stocked with people who didn’t seem too concerned with an art piece like this, I wanted them to know that I was. Maybe it’s the film enthusiast in me that isn’t devoted to one particular genre, but I loved nearly everything about this film; it’s a grand, weird, and beautiful looking movie that paints a portrait of society in a very profound manner.
I’m writing this now not because I got to see it again (that won’t be until it hits U.S. theaters this May), but because it hits V.O.D. this week and before more and more Americans get to indulge in it and undoubtedly hate it, I wanted to make my voice known in its defense.
And this is not to say that I fully “get” it. I think its one of those movies that needs to be seen multiple times (much like Wheatley’s Kill List , an extraordinary film that you don’t know is extraordinary until it’s over). Here, it begins strong and remains strong all the way through, going in and out of insane territory just enough to make modern audiences feel a little crazy themselves.
Tom Hiddleston gives one of the best performances of his career (in a very stocked early career) as Dr. Robert Laing, a man who moves into an experimental new high-rise, which is an apartment complex built by the mysterious architect (Jeremy Irons). This high-rise is complete with elevators, a market, a school, and anything you can think of that would be required to make a life. It sounds nice, which is why it’s a surprise (not to us), when class warfare breaks out and the bottom attempts to ascend to the top.
Sound a bit like Snowpiercer ? It is. Anyone who tells you that it isn’t is lying to you. But this film, based on J.G. Ballard’s classic novel, is its own thing, rarely ever feeling like Bong Joon Ho’s 2014 movie but instead feeling like a period piece with crazy cinematography and a sure sense of direction. I’m not sure I likeHigh Rise as much as Kill List , but Ben Wheatley is 2/2 in my book (still need to see his other films, which I’ve heard are fantastic).
The performances are great all around, but this is one weird movie, and I don’t think the star power is going to be enough for some audiences, even the ones who know who people like Tom Hiddleston and James Purefoy are (by the way, it was nice to see him in another movie).
It’s all about style, but it isn’t style-over-substance. It’s substance with lots of style. The movie looks gorgeous. It pains me that I can’t talk more about it due to spoilers, but just know that Wheatley’s latest is a triumph. It’s my favorite film of 2016 thus far. Check it out when it hits theaters.