There is a great story somewhere in High Rise. The idea of huge skyscraper style apartment blocks, with the richest living at the top and the poorest at the bottom has all sorts of great potential for social commentary. Add to this the idea of mistrust, unrest and eventual rebellion and you could have poignant and a very relevant allegory for modern day society.
Instead, Ben Wheatley seems to confuse the situation. Rather than tell the story in a linear, straight-forward way, keeping the details clear and the characters defined, Wheatley decides to confuse with random scenes, bizarre chronology and moments which don’t fit with what the rest of the movie seems to be about. Characters do bizarre, unexplained things, scenes seem to be missing, time jumps randomly and worst of all, the motivation behind why this social structure crumbles is left under-developed.
There is little excuse for it either. The story almost tells itself and it has a great cast to do this. Tom Hiddleston leads the charge as an everyman caught in the situation, while the poorer element are led by an under-appreciated Luke Evans. Support from Sienna Miller, James Purefoy and Jeremy Irons make this film one with buckets of potential but nothing is clear enough to engage.
It is frustrating because there are some elements to the movie which work well. The seventies setting has it’s own connotations, while some scenes which widen gap between the elite and the working class help develop the growing tension. Attention to detail like remixes of ABBA songs to fit the tone and setting show some of the Wheatley genius people herald but it gets somewhat lost in a plot which has an essence of structure but makes little sense.
Overall, High Rise is a frustrating, over-complicated story when it could have been an effective commentary on society and hierarchy. It has a fantastic cast but nonsensical structure which alienates rather than entertains. A missed opportunity.
Rating – 2
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