High-Rise (Blu-ray)

August 25, 2016 9 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

I recently decided to read a novel by English author J.G.Ballard who passed away a few years ago. Ballard is somewhat notorious for having written some of the more sordid novels of the last century, notably Crash which was about people who fetishize car crashes. I had been curious for a while about this author mainly because I am a big fan of Cronenberg who adapted the film version of Crash. Reading Ballard it is obvious that he influenced novelists like Chuck Palahniuk with his somewhat anarchist and nihilistic view of the world. High-Rise is not a perfect novel, but fans of Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis would feel right at home. Right around the time I had decided to purchase the novel, news came out that there would be a film version. From reading the novel, I knew that this would be no easy task.

The film revolves around an alternate version of the 1970s – imagine the 1970s version of the near future. In this near future, people are beginning to move into massive high-rises. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is a young single doctor who teaches medical students. As the film begins, Laing has just decided to eat a dog on the terrace of the high-rise. The film paces back to when Laing moves into the high-rise. At first, every day is another party among the affluent denizens of the high-rise. They drink. They screw. They complain about amenities. As time progresses in the high-rise, people on the bottom floors begin to feel a separation from the top floors and a class structure eventually leads to class warfare. The film follows Laing as he navigates life in the high-rise as a middle of the road spectator. Essentially imagine it as a mish-mash of Lord of the Flies, American Psycho, and Snowpiercer.

When I read the book, the imagery was very striking, and luckily, Ben Wheatley is absolutely up to the task. The imagery put forth in the film would make Ballard smile. It remains absolutely true to his vision, and the seventies futurity absolutely works. The performances are also very well-done, with great turns by Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Luke Evans. Sienna Miller is good as per usual. Overall, the film is nothing short of a well-done adaptation for what must be considered a very difficult novel.

So, as for if I would recommend the film, this becomes a very difficult question. I can easily recommend the first half of the film to even a casual moviegoer and feel confident that they will enjoy the first half of the film. Unfortunately, at the halfway mark, the film makes a huge mistake. In the middle of the film, the filmmakers take a third of the novel and condense it into a seven or eight minute montage that I think viewers will find incredibly confusing. This part of the film should not have been given such short thrift. By doing this, it completely destroys the flow that has been developed by the first third, and destroys the cathartic release of all of the savage brutal madness in the last third of the book. The effect of leaving out this crucial bit of information – how the citizens of the high rise begin to suspect one another and start sabotaging each other’s trash chutes, etcetera – leaves the audience feeling cold and not caring about the actions of the characters for the entire second half of the film.

So, as a fan of the book, I was pleased with what I received, mainly due to the fantastic art direction. It puts the pages of the film on the screen in a very real way. Unfortunately, this film could have been so much more. An extra ten or fifteen minutes to add to the original dissent in the high-rise could have made this films modern classic. It was that close to greatness. As it stands, I think most people will find it somewhat grotesque and somewhat dull. What a shame!

I will still hold onto my copy for myself, but this movie must be relegated to a rental instead of a blind purchase.

Video: How’s it look?

Magnet did an extremely capable job on the brand new digital transfer of the film. With a ratio of 2.40:1 and MPEG-4 AVC encode, depth and clarity are excellent, with the shadows and grain of the film fully present. This film is probably one of the best looking films of the year, and the transfer is spot-on. The film has a very unique look, due to the amazing art direction. Visually, there is nothing to complain about. I can’t think of any noticeable flaws in this transfer.

Audio: How’s it sound?

This is a very strong DTS Master Audio HD 5.1 track, managing to use all of the surround channels effectively. The film has a very competent score by Clint Mansell that helps to keep the pace of the film. The only problem that I found with this track was that the characters mainly speak in small mumbling statements in softly-spoken British accents. I needed my subtitles to catch all the dialogue! This is a minor complaint considering.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The special features are pretty basic EPK stuff aside from a pretty involving and enjoyable commentary track.

  • Audio Commentary – Ben Wheatley, Tom Hiddleston, and Jeremy Thomas – this commentary track is great. They are obviously all huge fans of the material and their love of it leads to a very good commentary track. This is the only real supplement of value on the disk, but it is a good one!
  • Building The World of High-Rise: Seventies Style – a quick enjoyable piece about the terrific art direction in the film
  • Heady Special Effects – a quick demonstration of how the head autopsy scene was done. Fun!
  • Breaking Down High-Rise and Its Tenants – the longest piece with brief interviews with the cast and director about the film. EPK stuff, but still worth watching once.
  • High-Rise: Bringing Ballard to the Big Screen – a very shirt piece without much too it, unfortunately. It also repeats items from the previous supplements. This feature was a missed opportunity.

The Bottom Line

High-Rise comes incredibly close o being a certifiable classic anarchist film. This close, but the film becomes muddled in the middle, making the third act lack all of the meaning it deserved. As a large metaphor for society, the film and novel still do a great job. As a film, I find it very difficult to recommend due to my fear that the audience will get lost at the mid-way point. Also, many will find the third act with its orgy of depravities and violence repulsive – which is the point, but that may not register with them. So, my recommendation would be to read the book and I think you will excuse the mistakes the movie made and enjoy the film for all it got right. Without the aid of the book, I worry that people will have trouble enjoying the film. Go with a rental before you purchase, and if you are averse to violence (in all forms on display here) and sexuality this will not be your cup of tea.

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