High-Rise is a seriously fucked up movie. I know that I usually have the usual "Good (insert part of day this review was written)" intro but I just want to cut straight to the chase so let me say it again: High-Rise is a seriously fucked up movie and I'm not saying that this is in a particularly good way either. Let's delve into this thing.
High-Rise was originally a novel by J.G. Ballard published back in 1975. I had never heard of it so naturally, I've never read it but it is about a luxury high-rise building where the divided-by-class residents eventually fall into chaos. I got wind of this movie reading a Joblo.com article showing the trailer for the movie adaptation, starring one Tom Hiddleston. I've liked Tom Hiddleston's work in the Marvel movies and he was the best thing about Crimson Peak and the premise of this movie sounded interesting. It premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival but never heard anything more about it until I went to rent The Killing Joke on xBox TV & Movies and saw that High-Rise was available to rent. Looking into it, the film supposedly had a wide release in the UK in March 2016 and a limited release in the US in May 2016 so despite it premiering at TIFF last year, I'm qualifying this one as a 2016 release.
So the plot? Tom Hiddleston is a doctor in a dystopian 1970s who has just moved into the 25th floor of a high-rise building, complete with its own supermarket, gym, pool, etc so residents have little reason to leave the building except to go to work. He begins to mingle with the other residents of the building, including having a relationship with a single mother (Sienna Miller), partying with a married couple (Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss) and playing squash with the architect (Jeremy Irons) of the building. While hanging out with the architect, he gets stuck in an elevator during a power outage. While this is a minor annoyance to the wealthier residents in the higher levels, it is far more problematic to the lesser residents on the lower levels. As these interruptions in utilities continue and escalate, it leads to class warfare between the rich and the poor.
Sounds pretty cool, right? I don't want to sell this movie short so let me go over what was good about this.
First and foremost, the acting is top notch. Everyone involved puts in a high-caliber performance that doesn't make you think of other characters they have played in previous films and at least would've kept you in this film were it not for other elements (more on those later).
The other thing that I really applaud High-Rise for is its cinematography and its set pieces. When these two are put together, if nothing else this movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at in that regard. It didn't matter if the scene was set in the swimming pool, a tenant's balcony or the architect's meadow on the top of the building, the scenery was beautiful even when the shit hit the fan (although there were a few parts where it would cut to an inanimate object that had nothing to do with whatever was happening and then cut back to the scene).
There was one little thing I noticed during a scene where Hiddleston is invited to a party being thrown by the architect's wife (Keeley Hawes) and he shows up in a tuxedo with a bottle of wine, only to find the party is actually an 18th Century themed event and he is mocked by the higher ups. Disgusted by the events, he takes a cigarette out of the pack and proceeds to light it up. I don't know if it was intentional but the cigarette was bent slightly, the end dipping towards the ground slightly. I couldn't help but wonder if that was supposed to be a symbol of his esteem after the exchange he had with the hosts but if this was intentional, good job, High-Rise.
Oh, and this happens too, if this is your thing.
For those positive points I mentioned, they were rendered moot for two very crucial things.
The first being the pacing. High-Rise certainly takes its sweet time to get the ball rolling and while I'm not usually one to knock a movie with a slow buildup and a good payoff (Gareth Edwards' Godzilla, for example), there needs to be something happening within the story to keep me invested in these characters. It wasn't until for reasons that are never explained, a character commits suicide (not a major character, don't worry) 45 minutes in that I really got something resembling progression of the plot but by then, the movie was already starting to lose me. When the residents of the high-rise start becoming more hostile towards one another, it didn't really do anything to pull me back in and in my notes, I even wrote, "20 mins left, I want the movie to be over."
The second is the script. There are things that happen in this movie that seem to just come out of the blue with little rhyme and reason and the movie just expects us to go with it. It is one thing to have characters do things but when we don't understand their motivations as to why they're doing things, it just comes off as bloated and confusing. Say what you will about the characters in Jurassic World but at least you got a basic cookie-cutter motivation behind them. After the minor character commits suicide, the movie seriously falls the fuck apart. I get that the lower classes are pushing back against the higher classes but it becomes so muddled and cloudy, it felt like nothing was really happening. I actually stopped taking notes as to what was happening on screen because I could no longer follow the story. Here are the last few notes I wrote (left a couple out to avoid spoilers):
-1hr 07min in, I seriously don't know what's going on. I feel like nothing's happening.
-Really feeling like I should've read the book...
-I am so fucking lost. Orgies in the top floor penthouse, Tom banging Wilder's pregnant wife, no indication of what the dystopia of the outside world is...
I suppose one could make the argument that our feelings of confusion by the events onscreen not making sense is supposed to reflect the emotions of the characters effected by said events but it came off as resoundingly pretentious and it felt like the movie was so far up its own ass that I was just left in the dust. Don't go where I can't follow you, High-Rise. It doesn't end well for anyone.
Save your enthusiasm, Luke Evans.
Final Verdict: Perhaps I've been spoiled by the summer blockbuster scene (after all, my top 3 favorite movies fall in that category) or perhaps I'm not intelligent enough to wrap my head around what High-Rise was trying to accomplish but I gotta call it like I see it: High-Rise is a fucking mess. For all of the stellar performances and great looking set pieces, those two elements don't amount to much when the movie moves like molasses in January and the script leaves you more confused and frustrated than enlightened and entertained. I don't want to jump the gun and say that there is a reason why I don't watch movies that have more of an artsy feel than the blockbuster, popcorn entertainment because High-Rise had an interesting premise to it. It's just the delivery of said premise really didn't work for me and you shouldn't be surprised if this ends up on my "Worst Of 2016" list. I wanted to like this one but High-Rise is a Throwaway.
Get the fuck outta here.
So guys, have you seen High-Rise? Was it easier to follow for you? Let me know in the comments and as always, if you like what you see, be sure to nudge that "Follow" button and stay cynical.