High-Rise: Is Ben Wheatley the new Terry Gilliam?

Film

The audience sits in stunned silence. On screen Tom Hiddleston, covered in blue paint, gives a pregnant Elisabeth Moss a seeing-to from behind. To which she describes him as ‘the best amenity in the building.’ So, er, what did I just see? Something many will probably be saying to themselves after coming out of Ben Wheatley’s latest offering, High-Rise.

For it is bonkers I say, unfiltered madness. And all the better for it. To backtrack a sec, if you’ve not studied up on Wheatley’s filmography, he’s not been a big name director for long. Indeed, many would still say he’s up and coming. His debut was the critically acclaimed Down Terrace in 2009, he then hit us with brutal horror Kill List, then darkly comic Sightseers, and utterly surreal offering A Field In England followed, and now this. Not a bad trajectory, all things considered.

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And his style – if you insist on pigeonholing – is perhaps a hybrid of Terry Gilliam and Terence Malick, but with added horror and insanity. So… perfect for adapting a dystopian J.G. Ballard novel then? This one focuses on the residents of a futuristic (yet set in the ’70s and to us now, quite retro) tower block, one which quickly descends into madness, hedonism, sex and violence; as the building suffers teething issues with power and food supplies and residents try to one-up each other when it comes to throwing debauched parties.

Still with me? We’re in Ben Wheatley territory here.

It’s worth pointing out that this sort of source material and auteur director is bound to attract many a skilled actor, which by golly it did, for Wheatley’s cast is, ahem, long and distinguished. We have Elizabeth Moss, Luke Evans, James Purefoy, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons and, of course, Tom Hiddleston, the latter who leads the show as the cool and enigmatic Dr Laing. New to the High-Rise he likes to hit the gym and sunbathe naked on his balcony. Which draws the eye of Sienna Miller’s character who, in turn, is pined after by Luke Evans’s character, who’s meant to be with Elisabeth Moss’s character. So it’s all a bit incestuous.

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Not that that is what it’s about, not really. But it provides a bit of a meandering story from which to hang these deranged individuals. Think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a tower block with added mad Luke Evans. In short, it probably helps if you’re on something to watch it, as it veers back and forth between dark comedy and surrealism. Thanks, in no small part, to Wheatley’s director of photography, Laurie Rose, who has done a fantastic job.

Seldom has chaos looked quite so sumptuous.

So for audiences gorged to bursting on straight line films where you’re spoon-fed the plot (superhero flicks I’m looking at you), this is a harsh yet refreshing antidote and perhaps much-needed at this time of year. And in the way you’d pair a good wine with a nice meal, this film might make a nice double bill with In Bruges, or if you want slightly crazier, try Brazil. Or if happy to dine alone, go in armed with a dark sense of humour and an odd lens through which to view the world and you’re bound to get something out of it.

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