TIFF Review: “High-Rise” portrays a dark dystopian dance party

High-Rise is a wild party that overwhelms with flashy images of sex, blood, and violence. Based on the novel by J. G. Ballard, the story follows Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) as he moves into an apartment on the 25th floor of a highrise building. Laing unravels as he learns more about his neighbours and is caught up in their social structure.

Set in a British dystopian society in the 1970s, High-Rise manages to explore themes that remain relevant today. For example, the apartment itself represents the social class system, with the wealthy on the top floors and the poor living in the bottom half of the building. Another issue explored in the film is isolation. Like buildings today, the apartment complex is fully equipped with a gym, grocery store, and other amenities. With the conveniences of modern living contained within the building, residents are reluctant to leave it. Instead of contributing to outside society, the residents on each floor segregate themselves into groups and begin to loot and attack one another.  

The clean-cut aesthetic of the film is at odds with the jumbled mess that the film ultimately becomes. There are times where there are random jump cuts during scenes, which is confusing. However, the stylistic use of mirrors throughout the movie is interesting because it shows how easily the world of High-Rise can reflect our own. One scene in which this was effective is when Laing is rejected from a top floor party. Out of anger and humiliation, he smashes the mirrored walls in the elevator and it breaks down. The result is a kaleidoscopic image of a dejected Laing that forces him to reconsider how he sees himself within the context of the building.

Hiddleston does an admirable job as Laing, who narrates the film. Throughout the movie, he is clinical and serious, which makes the scenes where he loses control more captivating. But it’s Luke Evans as Richard Wilder who drives most of the film’s drama. Evans brings a passionate performance as a hot-tempered, cheating husband. Described as the only sane person living in the building by Laing, Wilder is determined for the architect of the building (Jeremy Irons) to take responsibility for the oppressive hierarchy he created in the building.

Some of the content may be hard to watch, like the implied sexual violence of socialite, Charlotte (Sienna Miller). However, the film still has  light moments, like the slow motion dance sequences during the party scenes. During the Q-and-A after the film, Hiddleston mentioned that those were some of his favourite scenes to film.

Overall, the movie is a good satirical portrayal of 1970s modern living. If you’re a fan of films with bold visuals and content, this is for you. However, if you prefer straightforward movies that are easy to follow, you may want to skip it.

Featured image courtesy of Allstar