'High-Rise' film review: Class warfare themes lost amid thin plot, characters
The dystopian, science fiction thriller "High-Rise" (now playing in select cities nationwide) is a high-minded, peculiar flick that ultimately never develops beyond being a half-formed idea. While its cynical insights into modernity are intriguing (if obvious), this film is a little too scatterbrained to deliver its ambitious damning indictment against social elitism.
In short: Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into an affluent apartment high-rise building. But when the infrastructure begins to fail, the cordial building culture quickly gives way to mayhem and violence. Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, Sienna Miller and Jeremy Irons also star. (Watch the trailer)
Director Ben Wheatley presents an anachronistic world that is quite alien, and yet, is eerily all too familiar. At first blush, everything about "High-Rise" screams mid-1970s - from the retro fashion to the dated technology. The overall tone and thesis of "High-Rise" is quite timely: a wariness of technology and all the ways modern advancements has unintentionally strained social structure.
The film opens with a compelling cold open - revealing Dr. Laing as one of the last survivors living in a building that has descended into total chaos - before time jumping three months earlier, back to a time when life in the building was normal. This is where "High-Rise" becomes problematic. Viewers can be forgiven if they lose interest because "High-Rise" squanders the curiosity of "how does the buildling become a post-acocalyptic wasteland?" in favor of a prolonged meet-and-greet with the building's one-dimension characters.
Even when the story why and how of the building's inevitable decline comes into focus, "High-Rise" is content to just sit back and watch its poorly developed characters devolve into poorly developed tribal savages. The social commentary is lost amid the debauchery of the building tenants, as they pretty quickly descend from socialites to savages. The protagonist - who the film starts with and initially follows - all but disappears from much of the action ... only to do not much of anything in the final act.
Final verdict: "High-Rise" proves even astute insights on the nature of man and society alone are not enough to create a compelling film. The themes are not subtle. The characters are thin. The film shifts from a directionless slog abruptly to a chaotic orgy of violence.
"High-Rise" is now playing in select cities nationwide. This sci-fi thriller has a running time of 119 minutes and is rated R for violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content/graphic nudity, language and some drug use.