High Rise is a beautifully staged but incoherent arthouse film that dilutes its source material as it focuses on style rather than substance.

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is the newest resident of a luxurious apartment in a high-tech concrete skyscraper whose lofty location places him amongst the upper class. Laing quickly settles into high society life and meets the building’s eccentric tenants. Life seems like paradise to the solitude-seeking Laing. But as power outages become more frequent and building flaws emerge, particularly on the lower floors, the regimented social strata begins to crumble and the building becomes a battlefield in a literal class war.

Since cinema is already saturated about natural disasters foretelling the doom of mankind that a lot of people are obsessed in predicting, movies are now shifting to the disintegration of society instead of knocking down landmarks.

High Rise is similar to Snowpiercer, but instead of a train the setting is a high rise apartment.

According to the novel of the same name that it’s based from, the main difference is the residents chose to withdraw from the outside world and live solely inside a luxurious high rise apartment. As technical failures make living inside a self-contained world difficult, petty grievances turn into violent fights and social upheaval ensues as warring groups of people turn the apartment into a dog-eat-dog world.

High Rise is committed to adapt the book after 30 years of development and two failed attempts. From the trailer alone, the production value promises an international film festival movie material – a talented cast, distinctive set design, an intriguing story that requires a long attention span, and stylized visuals.

How these elements are used to tell a story though, is where the movie falls apart. As the characters spiral out of control it becomes a string of stylized but absurd meaningless set-ups that’s meant to shock instead of tackle the substance of its source material.

The movie doesn’t explore social organization and how its residents got enough batshit crazy that despite the escalating violence, they still chose to stay. Instead the plot is more concerned in throwing the cast of caricature characters into absurd moments. In one scene as the architect’s wife bends over asking to get fucked hard in the ass, one guy whispers to another and the two dance to the camera.

These people are driven by a crude and reductive interpretation of the social class they belong – the elite get high, drunk and fuck each other senseless while they orchestrate schemes to toy with the lower classes, the working class fight to  survive personified by a raging brute named Wilder, and the middle ones adapt as its stand-in Dr. Laing navigate parties and somehow become immune to the whole anarchy by staying inside his room filled with boxes of sex and regrets.

As a result the plot jumps from one party or rebellion to another with splashes of violence and orgies. The director uses a variety of techniques to highlight these moments such as slow motion and multi-colored filters, but they just look like nonsensical clips.

The High Rise shows crazy pretty people in a fucked up world, but as to why we should care for any them and what this means for us, gets lost in translation and remains in the pages of its source material.

My Rating: 4/10

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