Before the screening, director Ben Wheatley promised us High-Rise had everything we’d need from a film; “dog-eating, ultra-violence, and lots of fucking.” These disparate elements were certainly present, but not quite as fiercely as promised. It’s true that dog-eating occurred within the first five minutes, and the film’s official poster clearly takes some inspiration from the film that invented ultra-violence, but it is kept from going over the top (likely for the better) through its grounded (tower pun unintended) telling of an outlandish tale. High-Rise is something like a ’70s film-set seen through a contemporary lens. When I say contemporary, I mean the camera frequently moves with the near-handheld fervor and shot-reverse-shots we expect from most modern mainstream filmmaking. That this ‘standard’ style is so at odds with the absurdity on display heightens (tower pun intended) the surreal nature of the whole affair without overselling it. Careful details hide in plain sight. It is not a tremendous film, but it is certainly full and packed with care.
Ben Wheatley has slowly but surely made a name for himself as a cult director of ‘genre-benders,’ most notably with the gangster-cum-horror of Kill List, the serial killer black comedy Sightseers, the period piece farce of A Field in England, and now the sci-fi social commentary of High-Rise. Throughout the variety of this small oeuvre comes the consistency in the strength of the editing. In fact, each of the aforementioned features a climax with a ‘payoff,’ and in the case of A Field in England, the epileptic editing is itself the payoff. Wheatley’s films are edited by his wife and regular writer, Amy Jump. High-Rise’s greatest strengths may lie in its montage. Its sequences of montage are almost isolated events, short independent pieces which spice the flavor of the overall film exquisitely. That’s not to say they’re the only thing of note in the production, but they do bring a sense of joie de vivre to the table.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Wheatley for a co-interview with Thibault Van de Werve of the French-language blog Cinephilia (cinephilia.fr/blog) in Brussels after a screening of High-Rise which closed out the Off-Screen Film Festival. High-Rise opens in Belgium on July 6th.