Ok…THAT was messed up. And I’m not sure, at this point, if that’s a good thing…or a bad one. Here in North America, this flick received a tiny opening, from what I remember, but I do remember being intrigued by it. I knew almost nothing about it, except that it took place in a high-rise (duh!) and was based on a 1975 novel by author J.G. Ballard. Because his autobiographical account of being a lost child in a Japanese prison camp during WW2 was adapted into one of Spielberg’s most under-rated films (and one of my favorites), ‘Empire of the Sun’ (1987), I’ve always wanted to try reading one of Ballard’s works of fiction. But alas, I haven’t yet gotten around to it. So…those two aspects are really ALL I knew about this movie. So…on another grey Sunday, after all my domestic shit was dealt with, I decided to plunk myself down and FINALLY give this flick a watch.
Taking place in a strange, dream-like 1975 (as near as I can tell), the film focus’ on a ‘Dr.Laing’ (Tom Hiddleston) as he moves into a new suite in a huge, oddly-constructed high-rise building. It doesn’t take long for him to get caught up in all the drama weaving in and out of the lives of various absurd tenants, all set to a back-drop of growing conflict between the high-society types living in the top floors and the lower classes below. It doesn’t take long for things to begin crumbling…for everyone.
As seems to be the new trend for me, for my Sunday reviews, I again kept a notepad nearby and made sure to scribble down whatever observations popped into my coconut along the way.
Here they are:
-Post Apocalypse? Not expected. The movie begins after the shit has already clearly hit the fan. The building is a filthy mess and we see Hiddleston trying to eek out a strange, uncomfortable existence through the devastation. As I mentioned, I didn’t know anything about the story, so the chance that it was some End of Days scenario, where characters are holed up in a building after a mass disaster seemed possible…and interesting. Then the ‘3 Months Earlier’ Title Card popped up. Oh…I see what you’re doing now, Movie. I’m on to ya!
-Poor doggy! Dark comedy? During the opening scene, we’re shown Hiddlestone’s canine companion and hints of the Tracker / Hunter relationship they seem to have…only to shortly after see the dog on a spit…over a fire. Hmmm…there was something absurd about it…that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
-Nice imagery. Establishing shot. Much of ‘High-Rise’ is quite well shot, and I first noticed it with the ‘establishing’ shots of the building. There was something ‘sci-fi’ about them…which worked for me!
-1970’s? Alternate universe? The styling was definitely straight out of the ’70’s, but we’re never told exactly when the story takes place. Given the weird ‘flavor’, I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to take place in a real year or if it was just the styling of the strange movie dimension the flick maybe existed in.
-Creatively shot and edited. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
-Yep. Dark comedy. Face peel scene. There’s a grotesque scene in which ‘Laing’ literally peels the face off a severed head, like it’s nothing, for his group of medical students. It’s a pretty nasty visual…but something about it prompted a giggle from me…sick bastard that I am.
-Weird characters. Lynchian. A sense of the absurd. Maybe Gilliam too. If you’re a fan of the artsy and strange films of odd-ball (but brilliant) directors David Lynch (‘Lost Highway’) or Terry Gilliam (‘Brazil’), you’ll understand exactly what I mean here.
-The whimsical tunes add to the odd flavor. Much of the music was all over the place, in keeping with the scatter-shot nuttiness of the flick, but some of it had an unsettling sense of ‘whimsy’ to it…which made weird shit even weirder!
-Jeremy Irons! I’ve liked Mr. Irons in just about everything I’ve ever seen him in, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him pop up as the eccentric ‘Mr. Royal’, the owner and architect of the high-rise.
-The high-rise is it’s own character…it’s own society. The strange design of the building makes this obvious but the physical distances between the different ‘classes’ help reinforce the idea of a self-contained society.
-This movie hates dogs!! As a dog owner, it’s sometimes tough to watch pooches get hurt in movies (kill the humans!!…spare Rover!), but here they become a seemingly necessary food source when things start getting really dicey among the tenants and talk of killing and eating the pets turns up more than I expected.
-Somehow reminded me of ‘Rules of Attraction’. Just another example of comparing the weird, unsettling and absurd tone to another flick, in this case, the ‘quiet’ sequel to ‘American Psycho’, 2002’s ‘Rules of Attraction’. That movie also has a bizarre, dreamlike quality, which brought me to the comparison.
-Weird, dream-like montages. Nice use of slow-mo. Again, there’s that WEIRD word again…which maybe tells you something.
-Good cast. For such a tough story to get across cinematically, this one sure attracted a decent cast…who all had to know this one would definitely NOT be a blockbuster. On top of Hiddleston and Irons, we also get Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, and James Purfoy…among other faces you’ll probably recognize. They all do what’s needed to breath life into these bizarre assholes.
-Not too subtle allegory for capitalism. An example of societal collapse. It became more and more apparent that the theme of class struggle in a free enterprise society and the dangers that could manifest from it was the under riding point of the story.
-Degeneration into madness. Dream-like to nightmare-like. As this 1 hour and 59 minute run-time headed for the goal, the narrative began heading off into a fucked up 3rd Act that was mostly just unhinged lunacy, with all the main characters seemingly driven crazy by the events and the situation.
-Half the run-time = montages. Some interesting covers (ABBA?!). There are at least 4 different montages that break out as the flick moves along and two of them were set to weird covers of a pair of ABBA tunes because…why the hell wouldn’t you?!
-Damn. This flick is NOT for everyone. Pretty much all summed up in that one sentence.
-The end scene is cool, but right on the nose. If there was ANY doubt about the core ‘lesson’ at the heart of the story…the end punches you right in the face with it’s ‘Beware Capitalism!’ message, complete with a very pro-free enterprise V/O speech by Margaret Thatcher from the same time-period as this movie’s setting.
All in all…I’m not sure I’ll ever watch this movie again. it’s definitely not something you would just throw on for ‘shits n giggles’, unlike director Ben Wheatley’s 2016 gun battle comedy ‘Free Fire’, which he did a year after this one. It was an interesting watch that left Yours Truly feeling mildly uncomfortable (almost a lil ill) from the disjointed nightmare the movie becomes. The cinematography is solid, the editing is clever, the cast is great, the music is interesting but there’s not much to feel good about while watching it…which I imagine was completely deliberate. If you’re a fan of thought-provoking movies that embrace an art-house vibe, then by all means…give this one a go. However, if you just want to shut your brain off and escape for a couple hours…move on. This is not the movie for you.