Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field In England)’s adaptation of the classic 1975 J. G. Ballard novel of the same name is every bit the anarchic social commentary of its namesake. Set in the period of the original work, the film follows the residents of a newly constructed luxury high-rise. The building, designed by noted architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), is equipped with enough amenities (school, grocery store, swimming pools, etc.) that one needn’t leave its confines except for work. This closed environment encourages the isolation of the tenants from the outside world, and as the environs of the high-rise become more insular, problems begin to emerge. There exists a decided class structure within the building, with the wealthiest tenants inhabiting the upper floors while the poorer folks are relegated to the lower floors. After power disruptions begin in the building and other minor annoyances between neighbors begin to mount, the divisions between strata of the building’s inhabitants become exacerbated. As limited resources are directed towards the upper classes, the fabric of the building’s social structure begins to tear.
The film’s central character Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is our point of entry into the world of the high-rise. His baptism into the social world of the building coming in the form of invitations to numerous brilliantly staged theme parties, children’s birthdays, and raunchy, drug-filled sexcapades. Before long he begins to see the once-idyllic world of the high-rise unravel amidst the power failures and overstuffed trash chutes. What follows is a harrowing ride through the devolution of the building’s social structure. From its once-merry, party-filled beginnings, the high-rise plunges into bloody tribal warfare and total and absolute chaos. Cult director Wheatley and his excellent cast (which also includes Sienna Miller, Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss, and James Purefoy) make it a fun ride all the way to the bottom. (J. Scott Braid)