sat 20/07/2024

DVD: High Rise | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: High Rise

DVD: High Rise

Adaptation of JG Ballard's dystopian thriller let down by surface brilliance

Tom Hiddleston as brain scientist Laing

Ben Wheatley is a one-off, drawing on his experience in commercials and taste for wacky comedy. He does art house with a surreal twist, crafting a fast-paced montage of disjointed yet interrelated images and sequences that suit the cut-up universe imagined by author JG Ballard, in his dark and satirical vision of a modern world in terminal decay.

The brain scientist and psychologist Laing, played with disarming cool by Tom Hiddleston, moves into a residential high rise, in which the rich swan around in the upper storeys and lesser mortals have to make do with the lower floors. The film is set in the 1970s, but re-imagined as an urban planner’s fantasy, with time out of joint. We are back to the future, as a dream of a better world.

The dream – the brainchild of megalomaniac architect Royal, a suitably decadent turn by a white-clad Jeremy Irons – morphs into nightmare: the various inhabitants of the tower-block turn on each other. Every building that reaches for the sky, cut off from the ground around it, is hard-wired for self-destruction, as if hubris inevitably requires its own nemesis. High Rise joins other tower block movies (Metropolis, Die Hard and The Fountainhead come to mind) in conjuring the light and dark aspects of master-building and egomania.

Wheatley’s film was adapted from the Ballard novel by his wife Amy Jump. They also – unusually for a big movie – edited the film themselves. This is evident in the frequent intercutting of storylines, evoking the labyrinthine twists and turns of madness or drug-fuelled consciousness.

The film is visually stunning, and the performances all excellent. But, as with much British cinema that has grown out of the surrealism that characterises the aesthetic of advertising, effect and style all too often overshadow content, and the result is sadly lacking in emotion. It is perhaps ironic that a film drawn from the work of a writer who was such a critic of the consumer society should be undermined by some of the ultimately superficial story-telling techniques and surface brilliance of the medium at the heart of the consumerist experience.

Effect and style all too often overshadow content, and the result is sadly lacking in emotion


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters