In 1970s London, Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into an isolated community in a high rise building, who live their lives cut off from everybody else, with their own supermarkets, sports facilities and so on. The building is a microcosm for society, with the rich, such as the building’s architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) and families like Richard Wilder’s (Luke Evans) on the lower floors. Gradually, as some problems with power and water supply begin and a suicide, cracks appear in the system and order turns to chaos, as the building’s occupants split into violent tribes.
The director Ben Wheatley has said in an interview that
“The book makes as much sense now as it did then“
and I would have to agree; despite choosing to set the film in the 70s when the novel was published, the ideas of capitalism have definitely not dated and are still relevant today, as well as the similar themes to The Lord of the Flies. I read the novel by J.G Ballard last year and from what I remember this seemed like a close adaptation by Amy Jump (The only difference I could really remember is that in the novel Laing’s sister also lives in the High Rise).
This is a dark and funny film, and Wheatley manages the balance between horror and comedy well. There are several montages as the building rapidly descends into chaos, with feral behaviour, riots, wild parties, sex, and some quick camera movements show the disorder as fights break out. There are several strong performances in the film. Hiddleston is very good as Laing, maintaining the distance of a medical professional throughout the chaos in the building. He keeps his tie perfectly tied throughout despite his ripped shirt and being covered in paint and blood, showing that he feels constricted but also as a mask to hide how he truly feels about the disarray. Evans is very convincing as Wilder, the documentary filmmaker trying to expose the injustices within the building, and Irons is suitably detached as the architect, whose name ‘Royal’ conveys how he thinks of himself.
It seems a little odd to say this film was enjoyable as there were many disturbing and uncomfortable scenes, but the performances and dark comedy made this an entertaining watch. It did however make me think twice about the block of flats where I live…