J.G. Ballard’s dystopian vision of high-rise living as a metaphor for humanity’s descent into carnal excess is dazzlingly realised by Ben Wheatley.
High Rise was the culmination of a bold change in direction for the speculative fiction author that began in 1970 with the experimental The Atrocity Exhibition, and continued with the controversial Crash (1973) and low-key Concrete Island (1974). His 1975 opus, a world away from the environmental disaster narratives he conjured up in the 1960s, reflected the shifts in urban planning, which saw society increasingly embrace the vertiginous heights of residential tower blocks. His hero is Robert Laing, a doctor whose professional status places him in the middle section of the building’s eco-system, above the assisted living residents but below the majesty of Anthony Royal, the building’s architect, who resides in the penthouse apartment. But when the building’s functioning begins to falter, the pecking order changes and chaos reigns.
Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons are perfectly cast as Laing and Royal, while a supporting cast led by Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans, Keeley Hawes, James Purefoy and Stacey Martin adds colour to the residents of the tower as they descend into primal behaviour. Laurie Rose’s cinematography and Mark Tildesley’s production design create a perfect paradise lost, with Clint Mansell’s playful score adding a baroque tone to the proceedings. But it’s Wheatley’s skilful direction and Amy Jump’s impressive adaptation of Ballard’s novel that makes this vision of the novelist’s world so compelling.