HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:85
You’re going to either be intimately fascinated with “High-Rise” or so incredibly and loathsomely turned off by the film, that there will be NO in-between. It is a divisive and twisted dystopian story, penned by the famously intelligent, but horribly pessimistic British novelist, J.G. Ballard (who just died in 2009). Taken from the novel of the same title writing 40+ years ago, director Ben Wheatley and his wife (and film writer) Amy Jump craft a strange yet hypnotic take on a call for sanity in an era that was full of political and social consternation. Ballard may be most famously remembered for his novel “Crash”, which also inspired the film of the same name, but his most in depth and violently aggressive piece of fiction has to be “High-Rise”, which is actually the fourth book in a quartet of novels with thematic ties (the first being “The Atrocity Exhibition”, then “Crash”, “Concrete Island” and finally “High-Rise). Each of them is thematically tied with gated communities, both physical and psychological, and humanity’s ever present struggle to survive throughout all of our foibles and vices.
“High-Rise” is hard to describe in terms of plot, as Wheatley and Jump have stepped outside of the normal storytelling techniques and given us a series of scenes that line of chronologically, but also skip around in time and place as well. Nothing is as it seems, as the film is very heavily a metaphor for the social and political issues of 1975. Instead of recreating the novel into a modern time period, Wheatley and Jump decided to keep the past the “present”, which gives it a decidedly nostalgic and “time out of time” flair to the film. Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a High-Rise apartment outside of London, only to find out that there is a caste system that is most definitely in unspoken place. While Dr. Laing seems as post and high class as any upscale English socialite, he is stuck on the middle floor, while the lower floors tend to be the typical lower class, and the rest of the upper crust make their home higher and higher up the 40 floor building. There is nothing deep about the “in your face” allegories in that setup. Ballard and Wheatley both play off of the obvious conclusion that in society the higher you go up the ladder, the better off and rich you are, while the lower you are down the High-Rise structure, the lower you are on that social ladder.
While everything seems fine for Dr. Laing and the rest of the social order, it comes under attack in typical Ballardian fashion. The social structure that is so delicately balanced and tenuously written falls apart into complete madness and chaos after swimming pool faux pas. The basic temperament and mood of the film goes from social injustice and righteous anger from being snubbed by the uppity higher class into a social destruction that is completely epic and beyond measure. In fact by the end of the film sanity is something that has completely left the allegorical building and left out to rot.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=79762[/img]As I said, I really can’t give a synopsis of WHAT happens, as the story does not follow a traditional 3 chapter arc. There is some backstory and an inciting incident, but what happens next has to be seen visually to be understood. Everything shown on screen is a piece of the storytelling, even when the words fail and become cackling in the ears. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the absurd dystopian message that Ballard is getting across. This was all written back in 1975 when Margaret Thatcher was in power during England’s dabbling in capitalism. Something that the horribly and chronically pessimistic Ballard felt was something that would go EPICALLY wrong. Ironically the same rage and bitterness that Ballard felt about capitalism is being echoed today. The 1%ers. The lower class getting poorer, and the middle class vanishing as the upper crust uses the free market to effectively control everything and everyone around them. At least by his and some more left leaning opinions. Everything shown on screen here, everything discussed in the film is absurdist dystopianism that is directly mocking and shaking its fist at what Ballard thought was an economic system doomed to failure.
Ballard ironically calls himself a true conservative despite his hatred of the free market and bent towards totalitarianism and socialism. He was brutally and bitterly cynical to the core and his novels echoed that fatalistic and depressing life philosophy (one of the reasons he couldn’t see the free market actually succeeding was due to that idea and theory that humanity can only go from bad to worse if left to their own devices). While Ballard (and effectively Wheatley and Jump) carry a theory and philosophy that I find repugnant and completely against the nature of man, you don’t have to like or accept his philosophy to be entranced by “High-Rise”. Much like you don’t have to really enjoy the painting to recognize an artist’s mastery of his craft. Wheatley and Jump create a film that doesn’t rely on the traditional structures of film and storytelling, and create a film that is utterly mesmerizing and completely hypnotic while being completely horrific and repulsive at the same time.
Much of the novel is kept intact, which makes for a wildly entertaining ride, but there are certain elements that have been softened and dulled in order to keep it more accessible (if that can be accomplished) to the average man. Laing’s sister is left out of the story, which keeps the semi-incest theme out of the movie, but Wheatley and Jump have not in any way dulled the impact of the films actions. The movie is uncompromisingly brutal and disturbingly in your face with the message. But that in no way makes it in less deep and layered. Every movement of the film, every song played in the debaucherously dangerous parties, every interaction and absurd comment made by the characters carries weight and meaning behind them. Each time I’ve watching “High-Rise” I uncover another facet of the film that was unseen in the previous watching, and every watching brings forth a new emotion, and a new delightful hatred of what is being played out on screen. Honestly I could write a dissertation on the films themes, and could actually go on writing for pages, but any more and it becomes less of your experience and more me just telling you about mine.
Rated R for violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content/graphic nudity, language and some drug use
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=79770[/img]“High-Rise” as a mostly incredible looking 2.39:1 AVC encoded image. Wheatley has stylized the film after the 1970s and a Kubrick like love of neat and orderly frames that are completely symmetrical. Efforts are painfully taken to create a system of chaos and order that are both intrinsically tied together during the film, and the dull and burnished looking colors are just as precise and chaotic at the same time. A tie dyed shirt bursts with colors of the rainbow, only to be separated by an upscale party that thrives on whites, blacks and mild golds. The fine detail can be incredible, especially the shot shown in the trailer where Tom Hiddleston is wildly painting his apartment in a silver gray that slops over everything, including his face. You can see the intricate cracking and shifting of the paint across his face, as well as the blood trickling from a cut on the face. Black levels can be very good, with little crush, but there is some very nasty banding that shows up during the darker bits and can get very obtrusive. Sadly that is the major flaw that disrupts an otherwise immaculate looking image.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=79778[/img]While the image is MOSTLY great, the audio is pretty much all great. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is incredibly precise, with razor sharp dialog and crisp sound design that is natural and vibrant at all times. Whether that be in an echoing hallway, or the wide open spaces of a garden on the top of the High-Rise. Surrounds are used extensively, especially when the lunacy goes into full swing and the society takes a downward spiral into madness. The screams of people in the background, or the thumping of a party on the upper floors comes through cleanly and clearly, while the bizarrely fitting score throbs and pulses with energy as it shifts and changes styles (we have everything from Abba, to Portishead to a full on stringed quartet). Bass is deep and powerful when needed, but also plays softly and quietly as well, allowing itself to flow seamlessly throughout the track without being obtrusive or absent in any way.
• Audio Commentary With Actor Tom Hiddleston, Director Ben Wheatley, And Producer Jeremy Thomas
• Building The World Of High-Rise: 70's Style
• Heady Special Effects
• Breaking Down High-Rise & Its Tenants
• High-Rise: Bringing Ballard To The Big Screen
• Theatrical Trailer
At this point you’re wondering “Mike, how can you like this film? You said you didn’t even agree with the message”. That’s very true. I do and I don’t. The film is a masterpiece of visual and socio political storytelling, and even though I find Ballard’s work incredibly pessimistic and subsequently the film’s message is something I completely disagree with it doesn’t mean that I am not completely and utterly fascinated with the film. I have screamed and yelled at the screen repeatedly during this last week (watched almost 4 times), and each time I am completely enthralled at the discussion being laid out. Much like a political debate. You may not agree with what someone says on stage, but you are drawn into the conversation complete with railing against the other side and dissection of everything said in the. As I said before. You will either love, or you will utterly hate “High-Rise”. It is a definite acquired taste, and not for everyone, but it is certainly something I would recommend you watch for yourself before passing judgement. Even if you end up completely hating it.
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: J.G. Ballard (Novel), Amy Jump
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 120 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: August 2nd, 2016
Buy High-Rise Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: A Divisive, but Incredible Watch
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