Lee reviews “High-Rise”; an arthouse movie from director Ben Wheatley.
Honest to goodness arthouse in 2016; truly the year has arrived.
“High-Rise” gives us quite a bit to think about, like all decent arthouse films. Questions like “how did they convince anyone to put money into this batshit crazy script?” or “did they get a lot of money? Because if they were able to convince hottest of hot right now Tom Hiddleston to get on board, not to mention the other notable names, surely that means they got quite a bit?”
Set in pseudo-future 1970s and clearly adapted from a novel of some description since all the characters speak in full run-on sentences and display an immaculate talent for poignant posturing; “High-Rise” really nails its setting. The setting of an arthouse film made to look like the 1970s, that is. Quick zooms and close ups; flashing, seemingly disconnected images with that “singular connected set” feel and a lot of practical effects that all really jells with the terse dialogue and over-the-top, bombastic musical cues to capture perfectly the era of cinematic exorbitance.
Hints of ABBA’s “S.O.S” played classically, the old TV sets and cars and clothes; it all looks the part. The twisted art style of the High-Rise itself also perfectly captured; the gnarled twisted fingers of the buildings really plays into that deep sense of unease that permeates each scene, and to literally skew the old 70s high-rises makes for one hilarious and perfect image of the vision of that time.
Unfortunately, for me, it’s the remainder that lets it down. Yes, it’s an allegorical story; at times on the nose and at the times entrenched in subtext and double-think and all that wonderful social dystopia stuff we all know and love. It’s fun sometimes, in that morbid kind of sense, but most of the time it’s just a little dull. Yes, class warfare, etc. Yes, capitalism, etc. Personally, if we’re going to be dour about things we know are shit, I prefer it to be a little weirder and “High-Rise” just wasn’t weird enough.
All the disjointed sex and violence and sexual violence never really shocked or surprised in the first place, so to keep pushing the idea that “the more we see of it, the duller it gets and that’s the point” doesn’t really work when the point isn’t awfully hard to get and dull from the start. That might be more to do with the source material than the movie, but that doesn’t mean I still didn’t have to sit through it, eyes darting here and there for something more interesting.
I kept wishing for something a little darker on a higher level, or something completely out of place, but the film seemed pretty married to its vision of a somewhat traditional, grounded nuthouse. Which was fine, and for newcomers to the genre that is arthouse, it might even be that great first taste that sets them on the path to watch more (usually terrible) movies of that type.
For those more jaded viewers, it might just deliver and no more. I’d be very surprised if I revisit it, but I am glad I saw it, so there’s that.