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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

The Towering Inferno

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday May 26, 06:16 pm
Like heavy-handed allegories about human failings and class warfare? You’re in luck

High-Rise
Broadway Theatre
Opens May 27
3 out of 5

Director Ben Wheatley is an acquired taste. There’s nothing exactly otherworldly about his films but they don’t seem to take place in the same plane of existence as ours. Whether dabbling in noir (Kill List), horror (A Field in England) or comedy (Sightseers), Wheatley aims to make you uncomfortable, and for the most part, he succeeds.

It’s not surprising he turned out to be the right guy to adapt one of J.G. Ballard’s “unfilmable” novels. High-Rise is an enthralling, askew look at class warfare in a setting rich in allegories.

The building in question is a massive apartment block that mirrors societal status: The upper floors shelter the dominant caste, the middle class is right below and so forth. Laing (Tom Hiddleston) arrives to an apartment at the heart of the structure. Since he’s a doctor, Laing is tolerated by the higher-ups while well received by those below him.

An energy crisis causes the social order to crumble. The upper class remains unaware of the revolution brewing under their feet until it’s too late. Almost everybody else suffers, except those capable of ditching that inconvenient cloak of civilization at a moment’s notice. Chaos engulfs the building, but just as quickly a new order emerges.

While Laing is the protagonist apparent, High-Rise is rich in characters that at any given minute can take over the spotlight: The documentary filmmaker with a wild streak (Luke Evans), the social butterfly with an agenda (Sienna Miller), the clueless, entitled aristocrat (James Purefoy) or the architect of this social order (Jeremy Irons), a man so detached from his creation he’s easily overthrown (religious metaphor alert!).

As effective as Wheatley is creating this tapestry, the lack of answers or direction during the last third of the movie is bothersome. This is not necessarily the filmmaker’s fault (Ballard is not known for his clarity), but couldn’t Wheatley find more insight in this scenario?

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