A film like High-Rise is incredibly rare. It's not just seeing a high-profile cast engaged in the kind of violence and degradation that's usually reserved for low-rent horrors, it's the fact that there are so many genres and moving parts at work in what is quite a mainstream film.
Based on JG Ballard's dystopian vision of Thatcherite England, the novel was considered impossible to be adapted - and seeing the film, it's easy to see why. Set entirely inside a brutalist skyscraper, the high-rise of the title is home to various social groups, including Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and its creator, Jeremy Irons, and his wife, Keeley Hawes. The film is set from Hiddleston's perspective, who is essentially looking to be anonymous and live a hermit lifestyle. However, his neighbours quickly bring him into the burgeoning party scene that is replete with alcohol, swinging and cocaine. We're introduced to the various classes at play in the high-rise, the elite led by an oily James Purefoy and Keeley Hawes, the bourgeois represented by Sienna Miller and Reece Shearsmith, and the lower levels of families encapsulated by Luke Evans' impotent rage and Elisabeth Moss' quiet desperation.
Irons' architect believes that he is building a force for change, that by forcing all the levels of society into one whole, the barriers will break down and they will live as one. Of course, as well we all know, that's not the case. The societal breakdown that drives the film is gradual at first. The on-site pool is commandeered by the toffs who want to have a beach party, however Luke Evans and a swarm children burst in and take over. Later, electricity failures begin to become commonplace, with many people using it as an excuse to get drunk, have a party and sleep with their neighbours. This breakdown is then suddenly accelerated and we see gargantuan orgies, mass psychosis across the entire building and what can only be described as some of the most disturbing imagery you're likely to see this year.
Tom Hiddleston perfectly encapsulates the detached narrator, listing off the various horrors that take place with complete dispassion. Sienna Miller's character, although one might initially dismiss her as a love interest, takes on an altogether more different role as the film progresses. Jeremy Irons, meanwhile, has all the languidness and indifference you'd expect of someone who builds something and expects it to work. James Purefoy is perfect as the oily toff who has nothing but disdain for the lower orders, whilst Luke Evans is frightening as the unhinged and aptly-named Wilder. Although Hiddleston is the narrator, each of the characters are charted and made whole so that when we see the eventual breakdown inside the building, it's made all the more clearer.
Wheatley's direction is superb, calling back to the likes of Nicholas Roeg and an infinitely more sinister Stanley Kubrick. The use of music, incredible set design, gorgeous cinematography and pacy editing means that the story barrels along at an impressive pace. The dialogue, which is cleaves quite close to Ballard's source novel, does take a little time to get used to, but not for long. When you hear lines like "BAFTA him!" in context, it all makes sense. What's so interesting about High-Rise is that there are many, many interpretations that could be taken from it. Is it a vision of things to come? Is it a social horror? Is it about how societal breakdown is only a power-cut away? Indeed, it's the kind of the film that - with a slight bit of judicious editing - could be turned into a pitch-black comedy, a haunted house horror or a rip-roaring sci-fi thriller. As it stands, it's all of those things at once. That can feel chaotic and as you're watching High-Rise, it's almost too much to take in at times.
High-Rise isn't for everyone. It can and will split audiences right down the middle, some absolutely loving the sheer insanity that's on screen while others reviling from it. It's not an entertaining watch, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one of those films that should be seen and experienced for its ability to disturb and shake you. What is clear is that there is a mad genius director at work here and this might just be his greatest work to date.