Words strain to describe the unrepentant grotesqueness on display in “High-Rise,” the darkly funny Tom Hiddleston film. Imagine if Ken Russell had directed “The Towering Inferno.” Or picture “Lord of the Flies” with an adult cast who don’t mind taking their clothes off.
“High-Rise” begins with some tasty real estate porn. Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston, who brings a Michael Fassbender vibe to the film) moves into an elegant apartment on the twenty-fifth floor of a luxurious high-rise building. He quickly begins to hobnob with his neighbours, the building’s elite like single mother Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and the regal Mr. Royal (Jeremy Irons), the penthouse occupant and architect who calls himself the building’s midwife. The building is a social hierarchy, a segregated culture where the rich live on the top floors in opulence while the poor folks and families on the ground floor have to who beg for water and electricity. Royal calls it colonizing the sky, which, as one rich guy says, “is understandable when you look at what’s happening at street level.” When the anarchy of the lower floors spreads to the top, class warfare erupts and everyone, rich and poor, goes into extreme survival mode. How’s the high life? “Prone to fits of mania, narcissism and power failure,” says Laing.
An adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel about class segregation “High-Rise” is chaotic and completely bonkers. As the social structure disintegrates calm and reason go out the window—or more likely, are hurled off the balcony—for both the characters and director Ben Wheatley. Unafraid to allow anarchy to be the story’s engine, he blurs the line between behaviours civilized and savage, presenting a kaleidoscopic look at social rot. I mean, how many movies feature a roasted dog dinner and a Marie Antoinette dress-up party?
“High-Rise” will not be for everybody. It’s not meant to be for everybody. Uncompromising and disjointed, it’s unapologetically weird; a film that seems likely to earn instant cult status.