Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons star in the new film by cult British director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England), an ambitious adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel about a London apartment tower that becomes a battlefield in a literal class war.
Ben Wheatley's startlingly imaginative new film is a retro-futuristic, dystopian phantasmagoria. Based on J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel, High-Rise unleashes the British director's wicked satiric powers on our twenty-first-century world by revisiting the book's pre-Thatcher-era milieu. Everything in his parallel-reality vision of the 1970s is recognizable but exaggerated and, uncannily, this stylization of the past allows Wheatley to create a stunning parable about what may be our future.
The film follows a young, respectable doctor, Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston, also appearing at the Festival in I Saw the Light) who moves into a new luxury apartment seeking anonymity. The building, a Brutalist concrete tower block, is inhabited by eccentric tenants who let off steam in endless rounds of themed parties and raucous, drink-and-drug-fuelled orgies. Sitting literally atop this insular society is the high-rise's architect and owner, Mr. Royal (Jeremy Irons), whose penthouse suite beggars description and has nothing to do with the rest of his design. As Robert settles into his new abode without ever really unpacking properly, the tower and its social complexities begin to take over his life.
Royal says he built the high-rise as "an agent for change," but what Ballard and Wheatley both focus on is the class strife brewing between residents of the upper and lower floors. What starts out as competitive hijinks takes a turn toward tribalism and anarchy as the whole edifice begins to rot from within. Cronenberg's Crash, also based on a Ballard novel, will give you some sense of what lies in store: in Wheatley's hands, it's an outrageously impish skewering of contemporary society and values. It's also total fun.