Made in Britain: High Rise


I like Ben Wheatley films. Hell,  I even gave the nod to Kill List for my film of the year, and I rated Down Terrace quite highly too. Unlike Droid, I even found something to like in Sightseers. However, I found A Field in England to be a risible load of art student toss, and I’ve got nothing good to say about it. Unfortunately, for me, I don’t like J. G. Ballard, believing him to be probably the most overrated author Britain’s produced in the last 100 years. So, it was with somewhat mixed feelings that I sat down to watch Wheatley’s adaptation of Ballard’s famously unfilmable High Rise- a movie that spent the better part of 30 years failing to make it to the screen.

Contains social commentary (groan) and spoilers below

Tom Hiddlestone plays Laing, a doctor who has just moved into a flat on the 25th floor of a horrible brutalist apartment block on the outskirts of London. The block is ordered by social status with the poor on the bottom, building all the way up to the super rich elite and ultimately the architect (Jeremy Irons as Royal) hiding out in his penthouse. The block is designed to be completely self-contained with supermarkets, schools and extensive leisure facilities so, in theory, one might never leave the building. Anyhoo, there are serious problems with power, garbage and so on and so forth before everything goes completely to the dogs in an orgy of violence, misanthropy, and cack handed elitism crap.

high rise 1

It’s no wonder they turn on each other living in this shithole


This is a tough film to review, because in terms of narrative it’s practically incoherent. However, I suspect that a) this is intentional as it’s basically observing insanity, and b) the fault of Ballard anyway. For the record, this is a very standard Ballard idea, being (at the very least) echoed heavily in later novels Cocaine Nights and Supercannes. Nevertheless, there is much to like, and equally much to hate here. It’s been described as divisive, with record walk outs from the cinema (for the whole week it was on), but simultaneously got a massive critical nut stroking. I’m fence siting myself, for reasons that will become apparent.

Firstly, the acting. This is a real hodgepodge, and indicative of the schizophrenic nature of the whole film. On one hand, Hiddlestone is marvelous as Laing, exuding a sense of contained rage and emotional coldness that’s almost perfect for a Ballard hero. Irons is on rare supercilious form (and he gives good sneer), and even Sienna Miller puts in probably her best performance ever as Charlotte. However, quite what the fuck James Purefoy thinks he’s playing at as Pangbourne is a total mystery as is Luke Evans shifting accent as the “revolutionary” Wilder. Most of the other performances are OK, but a nod to Sienna Guillory, whose delivery of the line “Which of you bastards wants to fuck me in the arse?” really has to be seen to be believed. The answer, by the way, is all of them.


Eat your heart out Jackson Pollock

High Rise also looks great. Setting it in the 1970’s was a minor stroke of genius, as was using a real tower block outside of Belfast that has the quasi-futuristic brutalist architecture needed. As location work goes, it’s almost perfect, and one of the best that I think I’ve ever seen. The photography is also great (the slow motion suicide is a fine bit of cinematography), and the contrast drawn between the white-clad Royal and the aesthetes on the upper floors with the grimy buggers in shitty brown etc near ground level is stunning unsubtle but suitably effective.

Then there’s the soundtrack. It’s mostly (with one exception that I’ll come to in a moment) era appropriate, and the score by Clint Mansell is outstanding. However, the high point of the movie comes with a horrifying montage set to a Portishead cover version of Abba’s SOS. This sequence is completely gripping with the music serving to heighten and accentuate the really, staggeringly, grim visuals. Top, top film-making.

High Rise 3

You two bastards will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes. Particularly you on the right for having a Che Guevara poster on your wall and not being a student.

Unfortunately, that’s it for the positives. I mentioned the Portishead montage, but it feels like practically every bloody scene is a montage of some description- usually involving decadent parties, mindless violence and really grubby sex. This feels incredibly lazy as if Wheatley and Amy Jump (on script duty) felt that they had to cram every single fucking detail of Ballard’s novel into the film. We get the idea very quickly, it’s not exactly subtle, so perhaps a bit of implication would have gone a long fucking way.

Tonally it’s fucking weird. It’s aiming at social satire with a healthy dollop of black comedy, but feels patchy and inconsistent (particularly during the last act), in no doubt due to some crass imagery (Royal’s plans get turned into paper wings to adorn Laing as he’s about to be tossed off the building) . It’s also not as funny as it thinks it is- there are some good lines, such as Laing’s final speech, but all in all the odd moment of wry humour isn’t going to alleviate a scene of gang rape, for example. Furthermore, the film is stuffed full of completely demented characters (Reece Sheersmith’s crazy orthodontist, for example) that don’t really help maintain either the horror or the comedy.

High rise 4

Can you fly, Bobby?

The characters themselves are also somewhat (very) unlikable. I know this is social satire, but Laing is going mad, Wilder is a bastard, the 1% are awful (obviously) and so on and so forth. You don’t root for anyone in this film, because they’re all dreadful and it hurts it. I get that this is as a result of the satire and the Lord of the Flies with adults tone, but it’s hard to really give a fuck, particularly when you know that they could all, er, leave the building at any point.

Finally, a brief word on social commentary, this is one of a number of films I’ve seen recently that piles on the anti-1%-er rhetoric with a trowel.While I get that the world is in a fairly sorry mess, and so on, I’m starting to get a bit sick of it. It feels very much like the smart-aleck kid standing on the sidelines sneering while everyone else gets on with making the best of what we have. It’s not, particularly in this case, especially big and it’s not especially clever- something that’s made worse by closing the film with a hideously misguided Thatcher quote.

High Rise 5

Quite how they got the horse to the penthouse with no working lifts is better not asked. Still, at least it gave them a decent source of food. Not to mention that I think one of the women got shagged by it. Best not to think too hard on this one. 

Overall, I’m torn. There is much to like here (the Portishead montage really deserves to be in a much better film), but, equally, there’s much to hate. A good summary of it would be “think less stupid Snowpiercer crossed with Shivers”, and that’s about as accurate a guide to the film that I can give. I’m going with 2 changs out of a possible 4, but this isn’t a recommendation, particularly, as both Snowpiercer and Shivers already exist. Really, watch Shivers, which makes much the same point and deals with much the same material as High Rise, but is far more entertaining.

2 Changs

Batshit mental, this film, and I’m not sure that’s in a good way.

Until next time,


Made in Britain

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

61 responses to “Made in Britain: High Rise”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    From the pictures it seems like Hiddelstone keep his trade mark smirk acting face streak alive.

  2. Xiphos0311 says :

    I am going to take the unpopular stance the 1% deserve to live better lives then the general populace just because the rabble are whinny bitches that want to live that life but are too dumb to get there. There I said. That statement should engender many responses.

    • Jarv says :

      Dunno, as a member of the unemployed I clearly hate all of them. However, as a recent member of the top 10% the rabble are clearly bastards.

      I do find it amusing how people basically define this as “anyone with more money than me”.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        That is basically my point. Anybody with “more” of whatever is undeserving and clearly are evil and are keeping them from getting their just “due”. That line of thinking sets me off like no other.

      • Jarv says :

        I kind of agree, if the top tier hadn’t made such a godalmighty bollox of things and then been beailed out with taxpayer (i.e. mine) money.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        My view on the topic is at odds with most people, I know.

    • just pillow talk says :

      Alas they are made up of dumb fucks who didn’t deserve that 1% standing anyway, and who are in the position to fuck up more things for the 99% dumb ass sheep.

      Basically we are all fucked.

  3. Xiphos0311 says :

    Sienna Guillory you say?…..

  4. Xiphos0311 says :

    Have you seen Netflix Stranger Things yet? it a love letter to all things 80′ via aping the styles of The Beard, Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis via Amblin Entertainment with a dash of the good Stephen King thrown in for good measure.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      done by two brothers who barely remember the 80’s.

    • Jarv says :

      That’s next up.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        it’s actually pretty decent entertainment. The Chunk knock off character is great but all the kids are really good.

      • Judge Droid says :

        I liked the show but the last episode felt rushed and some of the payoffs were a bit weak. Modine’s demise was really poorly staged in particular. The girl who played Eleven was great. The kids were good but the black kids character got really annoying at one point. Noni’s character felt underdeveloped, especially when compared to how well developed the Police Chief was. Overall it’s decent. A better stab at nostalgia porn than shit like Super 8 or Ready Player One.

      • M. Blitz says :

        I’m a few eps in on this and thoroughly enjoying it.

  5. Judge Droid says :

    I hated this movie. Apart from the occasional, brief nice shot or amusing line it’s a boring, blustering mess. I’d say Snowpiercer is the better film and I hated that too.

    • just pillow talk says :

      Ugh, Snowpiercer sucked.

    • Jarv says :

      Yup, fair comment. I can’t really argue with that, except say that there’s nothing in Snowpiercer as good as the Portishead sequence, and no performance as good as Miller’s (!). I also thought Snowpiercer was more boring and irritating to be honest.

      I think it’s probably a book that shouldn’t have been adapted (see also Cocaine nights and Supercannes).

      • Judge Droid says :

        I’ll pointlessly argue the merits of a movie I hated. Story-wise and character motivation-wise, Snowpiercer was at least comprehensible. It’s also pretty linear and focused. There’s a clear point of view for the viewer. We see the world from the perspective of the poor. High Rise is meandering, confusing and jumps perspectives at will.

      • Judge Droid says :

        The film also boasts the absymal Luke Evans performance which somehow managed to be worse than Swinton in Snowpiercer.

      • Jarv says :

        I thought Evans was total shit, but Swinton’s was hideous. And, to be honest, Evans wasn’t the worst performance in it- Purefoy took that gong, with a turn as bad as Swinton’s.

        I’m not massively pro either film, but I think it’s marginally better than Snowpiercer- as mentioned there’s nothing in Snowpiercer that comes close to the Portishead montage, and there are the odd moment of legit black comedy (Hiddlestone caving the looter’s head in over a pot of paint, for example). Entirely agree about the lack of focus and irritating perspective jumps, I suspect this is a problem with the source material- in that Laing’s journey to crazytown isn’t actually that interesting or the central part of the story.

        To be honest, this is now the second failed Wheatley film in a row, and given that before it was the disappointing Sightseers, I’m certain he needs something special next time around.

      • Jarv says :

        While Snowpiercer was linear, it was also fucking boring- more boring than this, and the lack of likable characters was probably made a bit worse by the linear nature of the narrative. Laing is a massive cock (telling the guy he had brain cancer is a monumentally dickish move) but he becomes less important to the plot so his 24 carat bellendishness fades out.

        I’m still a bit confused as to where the critical nut stroking this film got comes from. I suspect it’s a film that people (particularly Ballard fans) seem to think they have to like, and strive to find reasons, but for me the setting, the location, the Portishead montage, all deserve a much better story and film than this.

      • Judge Droid says :

        Sure. Just saying that it was easier to follow and the motivations of the crap characters were clear. High Rise was just kind of anarchic, in that motivations were unclear and characters acted a bit randomly.

      • Judge Droid says :

        The difference between the characters is that in Snowpiercer they’re actually pretty traditional. The “good guys” (the poor) actions and motivations are pretty unremarkable. They want to overthrow their oppressors and better their situation. The “baddies” (rich) are also standard. They’re oppressing the poor snd want to maintain status quo.

        In High Rise there’s an element of that but not much. It’s more the poor revolting and the rich self-destructing.

      • Judge Droid says :

        Wheatley desperately needs to make a good movie. Kill List was brilliant but he’s followed it with 3 stinkers.

      • Jarv says :

        Sightseers wasn’t awful.

      • Judge Droid says :

        It may not be “awful”, but it’s shit. Not as bad as his last 2 but indicative of his dramatic decline.

        ‘Kill List 2: List Harder’ is on the cards.

      • Jarv says :

        I’d rate it as mediocre, miles better than the 2 that followed.

        But even that is because it leans heavily on my/ English culture which makes it esoteric- hell you’d lived here for ages and didn’t like it.

        Agree with the rest of that.

      • Judge Droid says :

        Purefoy was shit but he’s not in it much so I Evans was more annoying for me.

        There are good things in the movie, but they’re just a collection of moments. The paint thing, the dog which is followed by Laing eating a roasted leg of meat, and I kind if liked the girl in the supermarket that started speaking French. But those are brief touches scattered throughout a 2 hour movie.

        Also, RE: the horse. That scene was clearly the crowd making the horse fuck a woman. I reckon a few seconds of them moving the horse into position was left on the editing floor, which makes it mildly ambiguous. But not really.

  6. Jarv says :

    It’s also, and I’m a bit pissed off with myself for forgetting this, probably a good 30 minutes too long. The central idea is slight, and coming in at over 2 hours feels boringly excessive.

  7. M. Blitz says :

    Inclined to say that only Cronenberg should be allowed adapt Ballard, but I guess i’ll find out when i get around to seeing this. At my current rate of slackage, that’ll be anywhere from this week to 2021.

    • tombando says :

      Never heard of this, doubt it’s in my wheelhouse. Lord of the Flies for the uber rich. With Loki, Sienna and Irons. Probably can wait.

  8. Continentalop says :

    Good review Jarv. But I am going to say I have a problem with not only the top 1% but also the top 10%. The Upper Class and the Upper Middle Class.

    Hell, I will go and say I don’t like even the top 30%. Not because they are really bad people, but because they have their heads up their asses (“hey, this globalization thing is really working great for me, therefore it must be great for everybody!”).

    • Jarv says :

      I wouldn’t go as far as top 30%

      Mostly because the top 30% genuinely aren’t that wealthy. In this country if you earn 30K I think you’re in the top 30%

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