Thursday, April 21, 2016


Ben Wheatley adapts JG Ballard's novel and gives us a film that is a glorious mess. Its a film that may very well be my favorite Wheatley film, as one of the most memorable films from any filmmaker in many many years.

The film concerns life in a high rise apartment tower designed by the mysterious Royal. The people in it are divided up according to how much rent they pay with the poorer people living on the lower floors. When a series of events rock the complex open warfare between the haves and have nots breaks out...

...or that's what should be on screen. What's actually there is an odd ball mess that after a certain point just jumps from odd set piece to odd set piece without explanation before ending on a WTF radio broadcast featuring Margret Thatcher. Its as if Wheatley is trying to take Ballard's points about the warping of society and reinvent it into a Thatcher-esque battle of class. It never works and Wheatley's points, if he had them, are completely lost in utter WTF strangeness.

What I love about the film, its strange as all hell. There is a point where I threw up my hands and said fuck it because nothing was making sense on any level except in a weird dream like way where someone came in and hacked out half the film. I'm serious, I had the feeling that this film was twice as long and it got chopped down. That's the only way things could jump from thing to thing as they do. (I would love to explain it to you but you would have me locked up because you'd think I was joking) Its totally bat shit crazy and a unique cinematic vision-and I mean that in both a good way and bad way.

A flashback told story, the film is a kind of straight forward tale of growing social tensions up until one of the characters leaps from the building in a fit of depression. From that point on the film fragments and becomes a series of set pieces and moments that never truly connect. Its all a weird fever dream of sex and violence and odd behavior that gets worse and worse as society breaks down.

Done in a manner ripe with meaning with allegories to society structure and religious symbolism film desperately want to say something about the dog eat dog world we live in (hell a dog is eaten in the film) but it never quite comes together. Director Ben Wheatley clearly is aiming at some big targets and he manages to paint the wall all around his targets with great aplomb but he never manages to actually make any of his ideas stick to the target. This is especially true of his final fade out image which is supposed to blame it all on Margret Thatcher which not only seems tacked on, but comes in from another universe

I never bought any of it as actually happening since we never get a good enough grasp of the world to start, with the result what happens is merely cut outs and an isolated bunch of characters. There are no real characters merely caricatures who travel their appointed paths. You feel the unreality from the first shot and it never gets better.

And yet I love the film

While I am not a fan of director Wheatley, something he apparently is bothered by since he once set his twitter trolls after me, I have to say he made one hell of a film. While he doesn’t really make his point the way he probably would have liked, he has fashioned a film that gets the ball rolling as far as conversation and he keeps it going. It’s a film you cannot not talk about. It’s a film that requires you engage with it and the people around you in the audience. He may not have made his point on screen but he forces you to wrestle with his themes and ideas just because you become so concerned with what didn't work you end up doing all the heavy lifting for him. On that level alone the film is a masterpiece for forcing a reaction and an engagment with the material a more clear cut film never could have managed. Here it is over three weeks after I've seen the film and I and my friends are still talking about it.

The film is a glorious showcase of excess. The sex and violence is masterfully staged. The set pieces are marvelous and they carry the film along in the second half even as the narrative and character arcs have collapsed. The brilliance of the bits force the square peg of the plot through the round hole of the film.

To be honest by any and all rational thought HIGH -RISE should be a film that you quickly forget and dismiss, but there is something about the way Wheatley has put all of it together that the films images and full formed moments hang with you. You may laugh at the Royals’ patch of green in the sky as being obvious and overdone but it hangs with you in ays that seem unnatural.

The screening was the most crowded pre-festival screening I’ve ever attended at Tribeca. When the film ended bands of writers congregated outside the screening room to talk until we were thrown out so the conversation continued in the streets. If nothing else the film created strong feelings.

Should you see it? If you want an experience or want to see a film that provokes and forces a reaction- absolutely. On the other land if you want logic or reason or a clearly defined point stay away because as I said about this film is a mess- glorious in what it's trying to do- but a mess none the less.

Frankly I shouldn’t be recommending the film, it doesn’t remotely achieve it’s intentions on its own, but at the same time there is something about it that has forces you to sit up and take notice, there is something that engages you in ways that few films ever do. Ultimately though this is highly recommended for anyone who wants to see a unique cinematic work and doesn’t mind the bumps. Everyone else it’s a more cautious recommendation with the caveat that the film can be like watching a bad road accident.


  1. Most interesting and unique review here. I will be seeing the film at Regal tonight at 9:45, as the finale of five plans screenings.

  2. Yes it is indeed as strange as hell but like you I loved it!

    Two dystopians films this festival. I give the slight edge to EQUALS -a film I know you didnt care for- but liked both quite a bit.