Equal Parts Wake-Up Call & Cautionary Tale: “High-Rise” Is This Generation’s “Fight Club”

Visually arresting, technically challenging and topically on point, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is a unique piece of cinema. Martin Carr takes a closer look at one of British cinema’s best films of 2015.

Equal Parts Wake-Up Call & Cautionary Tale: "High-Rise" Is This Generation's "Fight Club"Welcome to the High-Rise. An absurdist fantasy mainlining Kubrick, Fincher and the smallest dash of Peter Greenaway, into a concoction of such cinematic potency that repeat viewing should be mandatory. Ben Wheatley has created something alongside screenwriter Amy Jump, which defies narrative convention, structural constraints and the necessity for closure. To attempt a dissection of High-Rise is as foolish as climbing Everest without breathing apparatus. There is such a mix of techniques, pitch black humour, social satire and political irony at play that some may find it too much.

Adapted from J G Ballard’s novel of the same name, both director and writer have lifted generously from and adapted elements of their own into the mix. Tom Hiddleston commits fully to the premise of tower block living, where class division, social status and cultural expectations are all built into your tenancy agreement. Every time I watch Hiddleston it feels like he has been perfectly cast, whether in Marvel movies, fair to middling bio pics, or the occasional BBC drama, there is never a moment of doubt.

With Robert Laing he demonstrates his mastery of emotional detachment, whether engaged in coitus, attending parties or debating the need for social change opposite an excellent Jeremy Irons. There is so much of relevance going on around him that you almost miss how easy he makes things look. While Sienna Miller’s Charlotte is the epitome of a social climber and luke Evan’s Wilder our literal and metaphorical loose cannon, it is Laing who acts as a physical conduit to all. Useful enough to be useful but not arrogant enough to create waves, he is the social chameleon, survivor and least likely to suffer when this microcosm finally implodes. While Iron’s architect admits no culpability, extracts maximum advantage, yet possesses no desire to fix his mistake.

High Rise, Tom Hiddleston - Top 10 Films

High-Rise is a unique piece of cinema – visually arresting, technically challenging and topically on point. Out of the trap and following his own agenda, Wheatley and Jump have given us a sledgehammer subtle deconstruction of social preoccupations all Seventies excess and psychedelic sling backs. Ballard’s barbed sentiments concerning the state of society never seeming more relevant than they do now. Having been voted out of the EU by a misinformed electorate this United Kingdom stands on the cusp of an economical abyss. Less than a week ago the second female Prime Minister in British history took office without public opinion or polling booth to back her up. While media information ran rift, governments resorted to name calling and Nintendo released a game which encouraged the populous to walk into the road after Pokemon. It would seem the devolution of our economy, weakened currency and lack of cohesive democratic rule are nothing compared to finding a Pikachu.

What High-Rise represents then is this generation’s Fight Club. A millennial reimaging of the Fincher classic, equal parts wake-up call and cautionary tale. A more lucid, lurid and lascivious version of a malfunctioning social strata is hard to conjure. Essential viewing for anyone old enough to vote this is less movie experience more social document. You may not agree but that was never the intention. This reviewer craves not acceptance but the promotion of debate to form individual opinions.

Janis: Little Girl Blue - Five Stars

Written by Martin Carr

Equal Parts Wake-Up Call & Cautionary Tale: "High-Rise" Is This Generation's "Fight Club"Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Amy Jump
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
Released: 2015 / Genre: Thriller

Country: UK / IMDB

More reviews: Latest | Archive

Top 10 Films reviewed High-Rise on DVD courtesy of Studio Canal which released the film on DVD and Blu-ray July 18 2016.

About the Author
Film blogger. Writer. Novelist. Singer. Living the dream. Isle of Wight based. Chipping away at the rockface. Leaving a mark...well trying anyway... See More at: http://martincarr.jimdo.com/

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    Greg Reply

    I didn’t get it. Wheatley’s a talented guy but I think he pushed himself too far here. He recently revealed his top 21 British films and you could see High-Rise was his attempt to emulate his revered contemporaries. But he isn’t as talented as them. For me, this has ego written all over it. He and Amy Jump need to get back to doing what they do best – dark, quirky, multi-layered comedy (ala Sightseers) or their penchant for the kitchen sink thriller (Kill List, Down Terrace). Wheatley’s got too big for his own boots recently. He needs someone to remind him he had fans before he wallowed in his own self-worth as an “artist”.

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    Rodney Twelftree Reply

    Look, I loved this film (my review will be up next month) but I’m never going to compare it to Fight Club. Ever. Wheatley’s delicious visual delight in the film’s subversive themes are superb, sure, and the melancholy resignation with which many of the characters meet their fate is dystopian indeed, but aside from the anti-capitalist plotting and anarchist overtones this has as much to do with Fincher’s classic as those awful Purge movies.

    That said: I’d recommend this film to anyone in a heartbeat.

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    Fran Golding Reply

    I’m going to have to be the “one” who says I preferred the book. I hate saying it because they are two very different entities but the film does a disservice to J.G. Ballard’s masterwork. Wheatley can’t make it work on-screen, it feels muddled and, importantly, loses any dramatic cohesion it might have had. Thematically obese, ideologically bulging, it’s a film that can’t match the scale of its ambition.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Thanks for reading Fran

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      Jaina Mistry Reply

      Yeah, i wasn’t a fan. I desperately wanted to fall for the film but it left me cold.

      • Avatar
        Martin Carr Reply

        Hi Jaina thanks for reading – Martin

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    ArchE Reply

    Wonderful piece.

    I’ll be hurriedly running to the nearest supermarket to pick this up. It is the culprit of one of the most delightful cinema trips I’ve made in recent months. And I don’t get out that often.

    An absolute delight. An astonishingly immersive combination of black humour, absurdist parable and dystopian horror show. It’s a film I will return to. Again. And again. And again.

    • Avatar
      Martin Carr Reply

      Thanks for reading ArchE – Martin

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    Dan Reply

    Definitely a film that appears to be dividing audiences. I’m not surprised given this is the man who gave us Kill List, a brilliantly subversive horror (if I can call it that). I remember not being wowed by Kill List immediately but knew there was something special about as a result of feeling an urge to watch the film again almost immediately. There’s a cold disconnect Wheatley seems to enjoy in his films – Sightseers too – which I can see leaving some audiences somewhat detached. But it’s what makes his films so fascinating. His characters are rarely (if ever) good people which offers an alternate focus that’s far removed from your staple Hollywood product. At the very least you’ve got to give him credit for sticking to his guns; for remaining true to his creative tendencies and having the courage to take chances. Not least in the knowledge that some people will find his films at best awkwardly anti-dramatic, at worst reprehensible.

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    CineGirl Reply

    I suppose you can count me in the middle. I didn’t dislike it but expected more. Perhaps a grower but I have no intention of rushing back to it.

    • Avatar
      Martin Carr Reply

      Thanks for reading Cinegirl – Martin

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    Roger That Reply

    It’s difficult to pin down into a category but so was Kill List. I’m guessing that’s turned a few viewers off it. I liked it a lot. It was original, funny and looked stunning. Of course, Hiddleston’s top notch but the rest of the cast are great too. Is it a “great” film. I’d suggest that if it isn’t, it’s very close.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Thanks for reading Roger That – Martin

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    Angelo Reply

    I’m buying it. need to see it again.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Thanks for readin Angelo – Martin

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    Hanna Reply

    I’m not sure I fully “got it” but it’s a film that intrigues and one I want to see again. Good review Martin.

    • Avatar
      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Hanna,
      Glad you liked it and thanks for reading – Martin

  10. Avatar
    Martin Rodgers Reply

    It’s a grower. I’ve seen it a couple of times and it’s far better the second time around when you have different expectations and a better understanding of Wheatley’s approach. Great review Martin.

    • Avatar
      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Martin,

      Really glad you enjoyed the review sir. Many thanks for reading.


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    Angela Reply

    For me, it’s destined to be a classic. Great film.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Angela thanks for reading – Martin

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    Callum Reply

    The amount of chatter this one has caused says it all really. Really want to catch up with it.

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      Dan Reply

      Absolutely. I remember Kill List having a similar but not as widespread reaction (partly because it didn’t star an actor with the presence or celebrity of Tom Hiddleston). It’s a film I’m sure will create debate for years to come.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Callum – thanks for reading – Martin

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    ruth Reply

    Haven’t seen this yet but I’ll be sure to rent it. I’m hoping I’d at least enjoy it even if I don’t *get* the film. Comparing it to Fight Club is quite a high praise.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Ruth,

      I recommend it obviously. Thanks for reading

      – Martin

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    Dan Grant Reply

    I’m in Canada. So I’ve never even heard of it. But now I’m going to try to find it for sure. Sounds interesting.

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      Dan Reply

      Give Kill List and Sightseers a go to – two of the director’s previous films.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Dan Grant – Thanks for reading – Martin

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    Dan Grant Reply

    I will Dan. Thanks. You keep making me add to my growing list of films I need to see. 🙂

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    charles Reply

    great film. watched it three times already.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Charles – Thanks for reading – Martin

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    sealy Reply

    Wheatley’s overrated for me. Nothing he’s done is any better than average.

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      Dan Reply

      Hmm… I think at worst he’s a guy who is willing to stick his neck out. His films aren’t for everyone but that’s a good thing. He’s not sticking to easy-sell formula. I can see him getting some big budget opportunities and taking a similar route as Peter Jackson in future; right now we can enjoy his unique vision without studios telling him what sells.

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      Callum Reply

      Watch Kill List again and then tell me he’s overrated! 🙂

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi sealy – Thanks for reading – Martin

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    Riley Reply

    Terrific review. It’s a great film.

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      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Riley – Really glad you enjoyed the review – Thanks for reading – Martin

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    Finn Reply

    Wheatley’s masterpiece if you ask me.

    • Avatar
      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Finn – Thanks for reading – Martin

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    ben Reply

    It’s a critics film. Wheatley might not have sold out (yet) to the mainstream but he panders to the critics. I didn’t like it. Found it pretentious. It lacked drama, too full of ideas without the restraint. Nice piece of writing though, glad you found more in it that me.

    • Avatar
      Martin Carr Reply

      Hi Ben – Glad you liked the review if not the film. Thanks for reading – Martin

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