Ben Wheatley’s retro-futurist dystopia is slick, atmospheric and nightmarish

High-Rise, an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s scathing social critique of the same name, is a paradox: it uses the past’s future to comment on the present. Wisely avoiding  updating the material despite ongoing relevance, it’s a period piece set in 1975, the same year the source was published. Nothing looks as dated as yesterday’s vision.

When Dr. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a brand-new luxury 40-story building with state-of-the-art amenities, he hopes for a clean slate in a utopian  environment. What he gets is a microcosm of society, with the elites living up high and the plebs stuck in overcrowded lower floors. An outsider, he moves freely among the strata, becoming the confidant of the architect living on the top floor, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who sees his brainchild as a “crucible for change.” He never gets the irony. As minor annoyances like broken garbage chutes and elevators pile up, tensions flare into open hostility. Soon floors are engaged in tribal warfare, fighting over finite resources and celebrating the corrosion of conformity with orgies of booze, drugs, sex and violence.

Highly stylized and owing more than a little to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), High-Rise moves slow at times and almost overuses slow-motion, but it works, the static camera letting the claustrophobic, brutalist architecture speak for itself as residents writhe helplessly in its grasp. An atmospheric soundtrack by Clint Mansell, featuring Bach and an ABBA cover by Portishead adds to the dread.

 

Starts Jul 8, Gartenbaukino

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