Running time: 119 minutes
Ben Wheatley’s movies have always proved to be a bit divisive.
Hardcore cinephiles love him but his off-kilter genre flicks like Kill List and Sightseers haven’t really ignited beyond the arthouse scene. His last outing, the psychedelic civil war drama A Field In England, was shot all in black and white and released simultaneously in cinemas, TV, VOD and disc. Too much of a mind-f**k for most.
Now Wheatley’s back with an adaptation of JG Ballard’s tower block tome High-Rise. A killer cast of familiar faces, led by Marvel’s Tom Hiddleston, will bring Wheatley’s work to a wider audience – but those who love him will be delighted to know that the filmmaker’s brand of unhinged insanity still burns bright. With Ballard as the backbone, how could it not?
Hiddleston plays Robert Laing, a young doctor whose arrival in a luxury apartment block coincides with an outbreak of chaos; civilised society dances on a knife-edge in High-Rise. Think the debauched offspring of Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell soundtracked to Abba (Portishead offer up an eerie cover of SOS) and you’re on the right track.
Move up the floors in the block and the social divide becomes clear. Laing’s level is with single mother Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller) and documentary maker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss). He quickly becomes upwardly mobile, visiting the complex’s creator Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) and rubbing shoulders with the snooty upper class like James Purefoy’s Pangbourne and Sienna Guillory’s fading actress Ann Sheridan.
“Civilised society dances on a knife-edge in High-Rise.”
Below them, the rabble begins to rouse. Led by Richard, keen to expose the wealth disparity, things take a turn for the worse when a pool party gets nasty and power outages heighten the tension. All this is seen from the point of view of Laing, and Hiddleston delivers a career best turn as a doctor whose mind is slowly unravelling.
Sharp-suited and psychologically splintered, he’s reminiscent of Christian Bale’s American Psycho nut-job Patrick Bateman. This film, along with The Night Manager, make a compelling case for Hiddleston as the next James Bond.
As much as this is the Tom Hiddleston show, the strongest creative force lies behind the camera. Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump have expertly translated Ballard’s class allegory into a furiously wild cocktail of sex, violence and hedonism. This is British filmmaking at its very best.