Tom Hiddleston stars in this surreal black political satire directed by Ben Weatley, based on J. G. Ballard’s novel of the same name.
It’s set in a future that’s already happened, a dystopian 1970’s, in a block of high rise flats. Where you live in the high rise denotes your social class, the upper classes being at the very top and the poorer at the bottom. This is explored through the share of amenities and electricity throughout the building.
We are introduced to Dr Robert Laing (Hiddleston) who, after recently losing his sister, has moved into the high rise. We meet the inhabitants of the high rise through his eyes and Hiddleston does a great job as the intermediary between the audience and the surreal characters and social situations in the block of flats. Hiddleston negotiates each situation with grace and a coolness expected of a potential future Mr Bond. But it is Luke Evans who steals the show with an excellent, over the top performance as the manic wannabe filmmaker Wilder. Wilder begins as the leader of the rebels, trying to stick it to the man but descends into a violent thug.
Jeremey Irons plays the architect of the building who has seen his vision turn to ruin thanks to the resentment held for each other between the two groups. It doesn’t take long for the residents of the lower floors to turn on those living above them and from this point the film descends into utter chaos. It’s a black comedy political satire (despite there only being a few animals) of the highest standard.
Although the story is driven through Wilder and the Architect, it is the impact of their actions on both upper and lower floors that adds texture and nuance to the story. We see this both through Laing’s eyes and through the effects on the other characters, such as Wilder’s wife; still aspiring to climb the floors despite the way her family is treated by those above them. Moss plays this quiet desperation well, highlighting the fixation with money and social standing that infects those that do not have it. This is also captured on the top floor in a hungover meeting of minds in which we have the line ‘the poor are so obsessed with money’.
Hiddleston’s character breezes through the disjointed building straddling both sides of the divide, much like Sienna Miller’s character, Charlotte, who has a child with the architect yet lives in the floors among Wilder and Laing. Both seem to view the chaos almost dispassionately, the enemies of neither side, which keeps the viewer distant enough to be truly horrified by the descent of all sides.
These socio-political aspects are so pertinent at the moment. But no one comes out on top. You kind of still hate all of them. Just like politics. It’s depressing and interesting and beautiful and terrifying all at once. It’s stylishly done and a brilliant and strange story, and I will definitely be buying the book too.