Movie review: Stylish sci-fi of "High-Rise" has construction problems

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

Director Ben Wheatley's "High-Rise" is a frustrating and challenging movie to watch - and more so to review.

It certainly isn't lacking in the slick-and-stylish department, but a muddled narrative makes it difficult to get into a rhythm. I ended up pretty on the fence, and I feel a second viewing would push it either up or down on my scale.

"High-Rise" is an adaptation of the 1975 novel by author J.G. Ballard. Ballard also wrote "Crash," which also made it to the big screen (the 1996 movie about a car-crash sexual fetish, not the 2004 Oscar winner about race relations).

Living the standard life of a handsome doctor, Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a self-contained luxury high-rise apartment building on the outskirts of London. The building is, like the movie, slick and stylish in a weird, future-retro '70s way.

Laing meets other well-to-do neighbors like the bohemian Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and documentarian Wilder (Luke Evans), and everything seems positively peachy. Until things start to break down.

Power outages pit the residents of different floors against one another, and a slow and steady descent into chaos unfolds.

The breakdown of civil society is a fascinating topic. "High-Rise" serves as a stark reminder that we're never far from going all "Lord of the Flies" on one another.

Wheatley's choice to maintain the novel's 1970s setting is an interesting one. This certainly makes the sets and costumes - both spectacular - a sight to behold. But the setting is also a distraction at times. This dystopia should feel like the near-future, not the past. It ends up evoking "Logan's Run" and "A Clockwork Orange" a bit - certainly not a bad thing, but it's an odd experience.

Wheatley also tends to focus on style at the expense of a narrative that doesn't feel like a steady decline so much as it lurches and spasms toward the breakdown of society. This tends to make the point lost.

I can't argue that "High-Rise" isn't full of gorgeous sights (and sounds, via the great synth-y soundtrack by Clint Mansell). A second viewing may be in order for me.


Opens Friday at the Gateway Film Center

2 1/2 stars out of 4