High-Rise (2016; Ben Wheatley)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, May 13, in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Rafael.
A barbecued dog is an appetizer here, human flank steak the main course, with a buffet line of sociopathic consumption and apocalyptic class war in between.
Director/co-editor Wheatley and writer/co-editor Amy Jump’s take on J.G. Ballard’s poisonous satire of Thatcher-era England looks and feels a lot like David Cronenberg’s take on J.G. Ballard’s Crash, stark and gloomy and detached. However, High-Rise also displays a pitch-black playfulness more in line with The Rules of Attraction and Fight Club.
After an ill fit as Hank Williams in I Saw the Light, Tom Hiddleston gives a cool and polished lead performance as Laing, a mild-mannered, Patrick Bateman-esque social climber in a sleek 1970s wardrobe. Laing leases an apartment in an ultra-modern high-rise with so many amenities, including a gymnasium, a grocery store, and a school. The inhabitants inevitably stop leaving the building, and instead turn against each other in a homicidal battle to throw “the better party.”
As with the train in Snowpiercer, the High-Rise skyscraper becomes an obvious but reliable metaphor for the social order, with the Royal family living in reclusive luxury on the top floor, the professional classes stuck in the middle and the lower classes drowning in debt on the bottom. Wheatley and Jump ground the story in its original time and place, which only makes the relevance of the satire and the familiarity of the targets all the more disturbing.
High-Rise slices forward fearlessly, relentless in its narrative thrust and yet overflowing with show-stopping setpieces. The effect is dazzling, although I should be noted that I’m a sucker for this sort of heavily stylized decadence and decay.