High-Rise is Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel, and it is deeply unpleasant, if not deeply, deeply unpleasant. (Ideally, I would wish to repeat ‘deeply’ several hundred times, but I do not have the space.) Based on the dystopian notion of tower-block residents regressing into a primitive state once societal norms and the class structure are removed, it sounded promising, like an adult mirroring of Lord of the Flies. But Wheatley is so in love with his own visual style and excesses that all allegory and satire is lost while the violence escalates and women are beaten then raped. Misogyny with social commentary comments on misogyny, but without that it’s just misogyny served up for its entertainment value. That said, after the screening I shared a lift with a group of young men who declared it all ‘absolutely brilliant’, so you pays your money and takes your pick, although if you pays your money for this, I will think rather less of you.
The novel was written in 1975, which is when this is set, and it opens with the tower block’s newest resident, Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), who is sitting on his balcony, blood-splattered and eating dog. The action flashes back three months to the day Laing first moved in. How did he end up that blood-splattered and eating dog? I wanted to know. So this seemed promising too.
We move with Laing into the building which, we discover, is strictly divided along class lines although how this relates to what’s happening in the wider world we don’t know, as we’re never told. The poor working classes inhabit the lower floors. Laing is somewhere in the middle. One floor above lives Charlotte (Sienna Miller), a single mother. Below lives TV documentary maker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his wife, Helen (Elisabeth Moss).