Opening to a distressed Tom Hiddleston nesting upon a high-rise balcony, his ruined surroundings and grim voiceover suggest the character is weathering a post apocalyptic world from the makeshift comfort of his apartment. Yet, in watching not only his acceptance but also amenity of the dire situation we are left to decide whether Hiddleston has descended into madness or has been alleviated towards freedom. Neither scribe, Amy Jump’s adapted screenplay from J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel, nor director Ben Wheatly choose to explain, alternatively allowing the building’s isolated cataclysm to, in itself, illustrate the residences’ inner compliance towards humanity’s worst vices, which everyone, regardless of floor, are both susceptible and obedient to.
While ‘High Rise’ articulates its thoughts regarding class structure, control, and savagery with ease amidst particularly detailed sets, wonderful performances, and plenty of gorgeous frames – the narrative is regrettably tedious and disengaging, due in large part to an overindulgence of montages and fixation on humor. The outcome is a frustrating severance from a plot that is at its strongest during the few scenes in which it invests wholly into the dark aspects of the remote Armageddon. The usual suspect of needlessly excessive comedy is partially to blame, but not more so than a superfluous use of montages, which seem more concerned with putting ‘High Rise’ into art-house discussions than engaging us into subject matter we yearn to invest into from a more fathomable perspective.
However, putting characters whom choose to live in such terrible conditions in a relatable light is an understandably difficult task, but it still shouldn’t be something to neglect. More frustratingly, Wheatly and Cinematographer Laurie Rose concoct a wealth of dazzling shots once the filmmakers are forced to abandon some truly atrocious artificial lighting once a power outage strikes the complex – shots that promote a pleasing color wheel and mesmerizing reflections against the bleak pre-oblivion architecture. Still, these visuals would have been far more enticing if the tone and concurrent narrative received equal attention and awareness.
More grating, ‘High Rise’ enjoys an epically orchestrated score, driving a notion of grandeur amid this secluded plight. Granting its consistent association with the overabundance of montages, the score becomes overbearing at times, but when implemented to compliment specific scenes it successfully stresses Marxist themes during the sumptuous parties of the upper floors. At times, though, its latency is unwelcome. Underlying a scene in which Hiddleston’s character fumbles with a piece of machinery he confidently told opposite Sienna Miller he could fix, the comical sequence is off put by a faint yet rapid melody that perplexingly builds towards nothing.
For as much as it altered the feel of the scene, the confused score fails to detract from plenty of fantastic showings. Hiddleston brings his patent brand of minuscule British humor while Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, and Elisabeth Moss embrace an orderly take on these outlandish characters, who simply get weirder each time we revisit them. The best showing, perhaps, comes from Luke Evans. Forced to devolve over the course of the final act, Evans brings a heightened sense of unpredictability to this already ludicrous situation.
‘High Rise’ receives a 3/5.