‘High-Rise’ Holds Up a Seductive Mirror To Our Lurid Desires


Photo: StudioCanal

Guest reviewer Sabrina Cognata thinks High-Rise is a surreal wet dream of a film that exposes our desires towards depravity

High-Rise is the tale of a perfectly designed building. One that accommodates the needs of more than 30 floors of tenants. It has a school, a grocery store, two swimming pools, a rooftop atrium, a gourmet restaurant and is quite possibly the dream space of anyone who hates to leave the house. The building is the brainchild of the penthouse tenant and building’s architect, Anthony Royal played by the cruelly cool Jeremy Irons (Batman v Superman).

Royal structured the building in the literal sense of the classes, the lowest levels being the cheapest and the highest the most expensive. The higher the floor, the higher the price of a unit. Essentially establishing a class war within a building designed for no one to leave, thereby creating a scenario that sparks a war between the floors. But hold up, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

To be honest, the first time I tried to view Ben Wheatley’s (Kill List) surreal homage to J.G. Ballard’s classic novel, I fell asleep. But that would paint you a less than flattering depiction of the film and I wouldn’t want to do that at all. When I finally had the chance to truly focus on the film, I became entranced with the universe Wheatley constructed out of Ballard’s words.

High-Rise is a surreal wet dream that takes place sometime in the distant 70s, in what may very well have been another dimension. It’s a film that will make you want to touch yourself, the people around you and then revel shamefully for wanting to indulge your most lurid desires.

Really, High-Rise is nothing more than an English take on man’s struggle to stay connected to society at large when he can step outside it and become the most depraved version of himself possible. And it pretty much looks like a nightmare produced and scored by Daft Punk and directed by Federico Fellini.

Tom Hiddleston (I Saw The Light) stars as Dr. Robert Laing, a surgeon who hugs the walls of his condo, never unpacks his belongings and pins up one single photo of his dead sister to instill a homey feeling into his brand new middle floor condo. We meet him as he is is roasting Royal’s beautiful white Alsatian on a fire on the balcony of his apartment, reflecting on what exactly got him to that point. What indeed?

Initially, Laing’s merely your run of the mill everyday man who can just as easily gain access to the parties on the higher floors, as he can the raucous family parties on the lower ones. Also, he is hot as fucking fuck and portrayed by the equally hot as fucking fuck Hiddleston.


Photo: StudioCanal

Laing quickly takes to life in the high-rise. It affords him the ability to distance himself from his past, his boring job and generally meaningless life by immersing himself in the building’s party scene and tenant drama. It’s not until Royal extends his hand in friendship over a game of racquetball does Laing really understand the depths of difference between those on the top floors and the ones on the bottom.

It’s not that the units themselves are any more special the higher you go. On the contrary, all the units are poorly constructed pieces of garbage. What makes the apartments special is the entitlement of its inhabitants. Which is why the occupants of the lower floors decide the only way to have a better life is to literally climb the building and fight for a better social standing.

Knowing all that, any shortcomings in the telling of the story are eclipsed by how beautifully the film is shot. Visually, you can’t help but be lured into the chic, sexy world of the high-rise. Every frame of the film is a postcard that David Lynch would send while on vacation.

The most interesting thing about this film is the crescendo of sex and violence, and the way in which they mirror the internet era’s need to be exposed to the most depraved shit on earth. Possibly, this is due to the fact that there’s nothing we cannot see within the push of the button. Cheap thrills become just that and it’s not until you wake up covered in paint, fucking your friend’s pregnant wife do you even understand how far down the rabbit hole you’ve gotten. When you really think about it, what else is there to do when you reach the top other than devolve?


Photo: StudioCanal

When men are left to their own devices, when they abandon their purpose to embrace their animal instincts they become animals. And Wheatley perfectly orchestrates this culling song as his characters descend into madness over the course of the film. If anything, it reflects the increasing gap between the classes in our own society. Only, we’re not trapped together within a building but merely social media, which instead gives us easy access to the proverbial top floors.

If the outcome of High-Rise indicates anything, it’s that one percenters should certainly exercise control in showing off all they have. ‘Cause it’s only a matter of time before the have-nots make a rush for the penthouse and finally even the score.

Sabrina Cognata is an artist, writer, provocateur and the mastermind behind the Dickoupage Project, an ongoing quest to bring awareness to unsolicited dick pics, shame, sex and the internet. You can follow her on Twitter @SabrinaSee.

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