Shut-In Cinema: High Rise

We absolutely LOVE us some Ben Wheatley, do we not? Sure, not all of his projects are winners, but I adore a couple of them and this is DEFINITELY one of them. I won’t lie, I only watched this because I wanted to see as much of Tom Hiddleston as I could. He’s absolutely magnetic as Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Crimson Peak was one of my top films of the 2010s, so of course I went hunting for more of him. I stumbled across this and decided to give it a whirl. Thank goodness.

High Rise is a 2015 film from Ben Wheatley. It concerns one Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) as he moves into a forty-story high-rise building on the outskirts of London. The building was built by Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), a man concerned with modern chic living. Upper floors are occupied by the wealthier residents while more common families live below. Get it?

Right off the bat this has a lot of hallmarks of films we’re seeing become more common. There have always been films about lower classes being angry at those above them, looking for retribution after being used and stepped on with no hope of escape. We saw it with Parasite and Knives Out in 2019 and The Platform this year, but Wheatley beat them to the punch a few years back with this wonderfully decadent visual design. The building itself is an ultra-modern living space, with grocery stores and places to get your hair cut. It’s full of everything one could need to just work out of your home. That’s…disturbing. Given the current climate of the world, staying at home is behavior that is to be prized. In High Rise it’s all the people know, living completely confined in a self-sufficient society that involves hierarchy and class structure all unto itself. When things start to go wrong, such as power outages and lack of water or trash service, the building residents on lower floors become suspicious that those above are hoarding resources. Chaos ensues and people begin to devolve into a vicious behavior. When no police come after a suicide Dr. Laing becomes suspicious.

I love that we’re living in an age where those on the bottom are angrily crying out at those above them. Storytelling in film is becoming a way to make a statement again. It always was, but this particular string lashing out at the privilege of capitalism is an interesting new development brought on by the way we’ve begun to enter its final global stages. Filmmakers like Bong Joon-Ho, Rian Johnson, and Ben Wheatley are in a unique position to give voice to those struggling while still managing entertainment.

I’ll be honest, the other thing that drew me to this film was the fact that the score has been composed by Clint Mansell. That’s a surefire way to win my heart and his work is delicious here. Rising strings compose a singing orchestra and raise it to beautiful heights, but small changes in tone and step suddenly add an uncomfortable skew to everything. There’s some gorgeous flute work too, composing a haunting musical narrative that serves to take us on a journey that doesn’t fully require the visuals to support it. That’s important to me in the best film scores, exciting and weird when they can stand on their own as a concept album without even needing to view the film.

A lot of you are bored and locked-up right now, I get that. Ben Wheatley made a film specifically for you; a story about a locked-in community that slowly goes insane from boredom and the trappings of the culture they’ve become enslaved to. A fascinating cultural experiment, High Rise remains one of my favorite Ben Wheatley films and it went unnoticed by a lot of viewers. I think most of you would enjoy it and I hope you check it out!

High Rise is currently streaming on Hulu.

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