Two minutes into Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise we see the leg of dog roasting over a fire whilst our protagonist (Tom Hiddleston) tries to make sense of what happened over the last three months. I should warn you now, the film doesn’t get any less shocking, and it is certainly not one for the faint-hearted (as I learned the hard way!).
Young Dr. Robert Laing moves into a luxury high-rise building where the residents live in a secluded world adhering to their own social division between the lower and upper floors. But as the weeks pass, this fantasy world descends into chaos and violence.
Adapted from J. G Ballard’s 1975 novel, the film keeps the 1970s setting, but in a year that has seen so much political turmoil and social unrest, the dark themes of Ballard’s story could not be more apt. It opens with the gentle calm before the storm, but Wheatley never lets us forget what is to come. He keeps this awareness fresh in our minds with a clever use of foreshadowing, such as an orchestra playing a rendition of ABBA’s SOS during an elegant fancy-dress party. And from the moment a terminally-ill resident launches himself off a balcony to his death, the order of the high-rise begins to unravel.
As the film spirals into violence it gets pretty tough to take. I did mention I’m not the most thick-skinned movie-goer – but I found myself wishing cinema screenings had intervals just so I could take a break from it all. Yet the films ability to throw you body and soul into its surreal and ultimately nightmarish world is one of its best achievements. We feel the torment of the characters as we watch them become both victims and antagonists.
By the time the film catches up with its twisted opening sequence, and Margret Thatcher’s voice rings through a transistor radio – you’ll find yourself wondering what the hell happened. And you won’t come up with an answer anytime soon.