High-Rise (2015)

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Keeley Hawes, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Reece Shearsmith

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

I have no idea whether Dr Robert Laing, Tom Hiddleston's character in Ben Wheatley's latest outing High-Rise, is named after the renowned Scottish psychiatrist, RD Laing, but it did put me in mind of a line from his most famous book, The Divided Self. 'The cracked mind of the schizophrenic,' he writes, 'may let in light which does not enter the intact minds of many sane people.'

In High-Rise, however, the mind is not so much cracked as split wide open with a clawhammer. But I'm still not sure what light it sheds on the messy madness within the walls of the eponymous building, or on society as a whole.

Tom Hiddleston in High-Rise

Based on a novel by JG Ballard, the film is set in the 1970s – not so much the real '70s as a dystopian vision of the future with '70s styling – think Soylent Green or Logan’s Run. Conceived by an ambitious architect called Anthony Royall (Jeremy Irons – who else?), the high-rise is designed as a social experiment, a 'crucible', containing everything its mixed bag of residents could need or desire, from a supermarket to a squash court. But while Royal and his wife (Keeley Hawes) live in palatial luxury in the top floor penthouse like Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette (there's even a sheep...) down in the lower reaches the poorer tenants struggle with power outages and condescending attitudes. Somewhere in the middle is newcomer Laing, whose smooth, adaptable manner means he fits in anywhere. Even hell...

Because it isn't long before one power cut too many sends the residents into revolt, and the next thing we know there's anarchy in the hallways, wild hedonism giving way to survivalist ultra-violence.

'I think the problem,' Royal opines of his failed experiment, as he's served a dish of horsemeat by candlelight, 'is not that I left anything out but that I put too much in.'

The same I think could be said for the film. While it has moments of sheer brilliance (a decadent 18th century party with a remixed Abba soundtrack; a kaleidoscopic murder straight from Spahn Ranch) it all just gets a bit much. Too much slow-mo dad dancing, an excess of shag-pile carpet orgies; too many visceral, bloody-nosed punch ups and screaming in the halls. It's like one of Hammer's later, sexed up offerings, directed with the surreal exuberance of Ken Russell yet chilled by the cold, forensic heartlessness of David Cronenberg. Half way through I realised that, despite fancying the pants off Hiddleston and Luke Evans, who plays an avenging underclass angel, all shaggy sideburns and brutish sexuality, I didn't much care whether either lived or died, and about 15 minutes before the end I felt I'd seen enough sex, rape, blood and misogyny for one night and could quite do with it all being over. Not because I'm a lightweight but because it all seemed rather pointless.

Luke Evans in High-Rise

But is that the point? That attempts to experiment with society, for good ends or ill, are pointless, doomed to failure; that, when push comes to shove, we'll all revert to the feral, atavistic creatures we are at heart, running in packs with our peers like class-conscious rabid dogs? Maybe...

So I loved the first hour of High-Rise but then I went off it. But I urge you to see it and make up your own mind up as, part super-stylish, ice-cold thriller, part twisted parable, part black-hearted, Bacchanalian Lord of the Flies with lifts and a swimming pool, High-Rise left me... divided.

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