We’re movin’ on up, MOVIN’ ON UP, to the CRAAAAZZZY…
Hey kids, it’s time for Indie Art House Corner *cue whimsical tune with children’s cheer track;* it’s where the budgets are low, the concepts are high, and nothing makes sense. Over a month ago, we had an episode where we had a charming comedy that didn’t quite stick the landing. Today we’ve got a similar pattern but with a drama this time around…or maybe it’s a dark comedy…or maybe it’s an introspective look at class warfare…or maybe…
Before we get lost, High-Rise begins with Tom Hiddleston as Dr. Robert Laing as he lives in a war-torn apartment complex where he kills a husky (that somehow got there) and cooks it. The film then flashes back long ago to before this chaos and…it was three freaking months ago? As in, he was a swinging bachelor moving into a new futuristic-looking apartment in an alternate-universe 1970s. It’s a very jarring opening as the movie sets you in to this high-end condominium filled with people from all walks of life, including Luke Evans as a documentary director with a visibly pregnant wife, Sienna Miller as a hot single mom that sleeps around with various high end men in the complex, and Jeremy Irons in the penthouse as he designed the entire building.
When you’re introduced to each character, they seem quirky at first, representing various classes of British living. But the high-rise itself becomes a character as it’s essentially self-sufficient: its own gym, bank, restaurants, pools, and supermarket. So the film’s characters slowly start retreating from their daily lives to recede back into their rooms at this ridiculous apartment where each of the classes set out to host the most ludicrous parties imaginable. Oh but it’s not in a frat vs frat sort of way, more like full on tribal warfare where floors begin murdering and raping each other all for the sake of taking in the high-rise’s limited resources for electricity and water.
You may wonder how you go from quirky British drama to Mad Max all in the space of about three months, and the film really doesn’t give a shit about your inquiry. It’s far more interested in getting to the dystopian hellscape than it is establishing the why, because the film wants to serve as some grand metaphor for class warfare using high-concept visual styles. While it’s pretty to look at, the story takes such a drastic and quick turn into Coo Coo Land that I had a difficult time connecting with any of the characters.
Towards the beginning of the film, the cast was acting pretty normally and demonstrated flaws, ambitions, desires, and goals which I definitely appreciated. But then, much like in The Neon Demon, the film then features this same cast of characters to suddenly not act like normal human beings at all. Their acting becomes stilted and ethereal, like what they’re experiencing isn’t necessarily real.
You primarily follow Tom Hiddleston and he experiences the biggest 180-degree shift in personality. He’s first introduced as a suave, English doctor that may as well have been his audition as the next James Bond (we can only dream), but on a dime he shifts to a paranoid recluse who performs debased sex acts and mutters twisted words to himself in the presence of others. I’m not certain if he’s supposed to be an audience surrogate or perhaps emblematic of all the problems plaguing the high-rise, but his dramatic shift is nothing compared to everyone else.
Luke Evans plays a philandering documentary director who neglects his pregnant wife and usually mopes to Hiddleston about how unfair the system containing them is and decides the logical thing to do would be to expose the upper floors’ control of the building. Would be interesting were it not for the fact he loses his shit like everyone else and decides to assassinate the architect of the building, played here by Jeremy Irons.
What struck me about Irons’ performance is that it kept reminding of another dystopian film that dealt with class warfare, Snowpiercer. And let’s get one thing straight: I FUCKING LOVE Snowpiercer. It was my favorite film of 2014, with a brilliant commentary about societal castes and anarchy with brilliant visuals. And Snowpiercer all culminates in meeting the mastermind behind this insane society in a tense meeting where the protagonist learns of dark revelations that force him to reconsider everything that had happened. The mastermind behind High-Rise‘s society is introduced early on and would have made for an interesting contrast behind his ideals before everything went to shit and his ideals lording over the chaos…but the film doesn’t do that.
It actually doesn’t do much with the dystopia it was such in a hurry to get to, besides establishing that shit escalated quickly. It’s like the film wants to make a point about classism, but you’re never clear what that point is. Not helping is a pretty limp and ultimately pointless conclusion that sees the film championing a matriarchal as the true way forward from capitalism (this isn’t me reading into it, that’s literally what freaking happens). But this conclusion literally comes out of nowhere with several female cast members who really didn’t interact that much with the plot. It’s like they swoop in at the last minute with a hitherto unknown plan, deus ex machina style.
Was really, really disappointed by this movie. The first act gave me some fond memories of Bioshock, a video game all about exploring a utopia gone horribly wrong, and indeed this movie could serve as a blueprint for any future director to tackle the subject. But the switch from utopia is dystopia is so abrupt and comes out of left field, that you’re left pondering more how did this shit escalate so quickly rather than the philosophical ramifications that this film is, weakly, attempting to depict.
There is some impressive cinematography to be found here, considering the majority of the film takes place inside a condominium and yet every angle taken makes the complex feel bigger than what it actually is. Further, all the actors turned in solid performances for the first half that gave me hope for a solid film all around; before the writer and director got bored and wanted to seem all experimental and crap. Getting real tired of these films that shit the bed at the very end after suckering me in for the first hour or so. While I didn’t hate this film, I’m only recommending this for people who like visually interesting films and no one else. So High-Rise is a middling…