Adapting a book into a movie is a time-honored tradition. So much so that High-Rise is not the first time that someone has tried to adapt this book into a movie. It took many years and multiple trips through pre-production to bring us this Tom Hiddleton led film. Has the wait truly been worth it?
I did not know a ton about this movie going into it. I saw the trailer a few months back, and I liked how it was cut and what it showed the viewer. There are a few things that I had heard in the months since that trailer viewing. Some people compared it to Snowpiercer, except the classes were divided vertically instead of horizontally on the train. I had also read that it was a dystopian drama with the decomposition of society in a confined space.
I guess some of those things are true. Like Snowpiercer, people are separated by their wealth: the richest at the top and the poorest at the bottom. Unlike Snowpiercer, we don’t get such big action scenes where a group plows their way through the tower. More true is that this is a dystopian drama showing us how society falls apart. The movie is set almost entirely within the high-rise tower block. This provides us with a claustrophobic atmosphere to watch these people and their society gradually disintegrate.
The movie starts with our main character walking through the tower block. In this scene, we see what the high-rise looks like now that society has fallen apart and the place has been wrecked. This is a peak into the future after the events of the movie take place. Once we’ve been taken aback by this preview, the movie flashes back to the beginning of the story. Robert Laing (played by Tom Hiddleston) has just moved into the high-rise.
Laing’s new apartment is on the 25th floor of the 40-floor tower block. Firmly in the middle section, he makes friends with those below him and develops a relationship with a woman above him. He gets to know the wealthier members from the upper floors, including the designer of the building. Through his eyes we are exposed to the differences between those at either end of the high-rise.
The upper echelon members who live at the top of the building are care free and relentless party people. These people really don’t want to be bothered by those from the lower floors, and are content to spend their days partying and getting drunk. They don’t even need to leave the building as they have a supermarket in addition to the gym, pool and school. The tenants of the lower floors are the working class citizens who suffer from the problems in the building.
As the movie goes on, the conditions of the building deteriorate. The power goes out for days at a time, water services stop, and the trash chute gets clogged up. Even the shelves in the supermarket become barren. The building becomes littered with garbage and the tenants become violent. The lower floor residents become resentful of the upper floor tenants, who dismiss them. Those who live on the upper end of the high-rise just want these lower floor members to go away.
I’m glad I didn’t go into this film knowing too much or expecting too much. Had I paid attention to the comparisons to Snowpiercer, I might have expected fight sequences, with Laing forcing his way through the floors of the building. That expectation would have left me sorely disappointed. That really is not what the filmmaker is trying to focus on.
I would argue that the film’s intent is pretty clear. We are presented with a look at how society devolves when isolated in its own world. The tenants of the high-rise are all experiencing their life and mental state as if the building is their world. Due to this limited world view, the disparity of how the failing infrastructure affects different classes is highlighted and exacerbated. The film also wants to show that when the people define their own society, it breaks down to being full of our baser, more revolting and animalistic instincts.
Does High-Rise accomplish this? In some ways, it does. It does put all of this on display, and it does so with some style and beauty. I love the way the building looks. I like both the interior look and the architecture used for the high-rise. The movie delivers the intended message well enough in my opinion. The performances live up to the task. I really like the style in some of the shots used in the movie, but some miss the mark and try too hard. Some of these moments I have captured as screenshots.
There are problems, though. The story telling didn’t work for me. This message has been told many times before, and I would say more effectively as well. The movie also didn’t really have a lot of charm to it. It felt rather cold through much of the telling. Really, I don’t see any of the characters as really likable or relateable. Pretty much all of the ones that could have been those you root for have moments where they end up demonized, leaving the viewer without a common man to root for.
In the end, the movie is just passable and so-so. It is shot competently enough, but without charm. The acting is fine, but with characters I don’t care about. The story just isn’t told well enough for meto become emotionally invested. Check it out on Netflix or Redbox. Maybe you’ll love it more than me, but I definitely don’t recommend a blind buy.
This blu-ray looks great. I think the film is beautiful, and this transfer did a spot on job. It looks sharp with great contrast. The 70s styled colors looked fantastic, with bright shots popping with color while the dim scenes are clear. I never felt like anything was muddled in this transfer. I just wish the storytelling was this sharp.
With a DTS Master Audio 5.1 track, the audio is great. The mix uses the surround effectively. I feel that the audio of the film relies on two primary things: dialog and score. The dialog is inherently important to how the movie progresses and it was clear throughout the movie. The music also sounded fantastic and helped add weight, especially in the scenes of dialog free visual story-telling.
Audio Quality: 4/5
Breaking Down High-Rise and Its Tenants
Now, this is probably the most interesting of the behind the scenes featurettes. We get the actors describing their characters. They describe their motivations and how their characters are changing during the film. Certainly to be watched AFTER you have seen the film, and not before.
Building The World of High-Rise: Seventies Style
This piece discusses how they decided to shoot the movie and bring the story to the screen. It details their consideration regarding whether to shoot on film and old technology or to shoot it in today’s technology. It also discusses decision in costume design. The piece is good, but probably could have been longer.
Heady Special Effects
This focuses on the effects for the head autopsy. Nice for effects fans, but pretty short overall.
High-Rise: Bringing Ballard to the Big Screen
This is focused on the book to screenplay adaptation. Not a ton of meat to it. Mostly focuses on what the book was about that they tried to carry over to the screenplay and film.
Ben Wheatley (director), Tom Hiddleston, and Jeremy Thomas (producer) join for this chat about the movie. They all come off as big fans of the book and the story they were telling, as well as sound like they get along very well. The three give a lot of insight into the motivations in various scenes as well as what went on during the production. The joy and passion they give makes this the most interesting of the special features.
High-Rise comes in a standard blu-ray case. I think the art is just fine. They used the same artwork on the slipcover as the case. I wish more movies would mix that up a bit. However, they have chosen to slap a couple quotes on the front of both. One quote calls the movie a “Masterpiece”. Now, I really do wish companies would stop slapping quotes on the cover to try and sell the movie. That is the movie’s job.
Special Features and Packaging: 3.5/5
High-Rise is a hard one to swallow. On one hand, I genuinely think that there are so many things that made this film very close to good. I think the performances are fine. The art direction looks good. I really enjoyed the visuals throughout the movie. Also, I really enjoyed some the shots through most of the movie, but really disliked some of them. In the end, I think a lot just failed to hit. Sometimes I think there were just too many ideas that failed to come together. The technical side of the disc is quite good and the supplements are fine, so that isn’t the problem. Also, if you do like the film, you will also probably enjoy the special features. I think there are just stories and films out there that tell the same kind of tale, but do it better.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.