PORTLANDERS WILL FIND much that's familiar in High-Rise, the latest from Ben Wheatley—whose Kill List, Sightseers, and A Field in England heralded the arrival of a major filmmaking talent. Adapted from J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel, High-Rise fits right into Wheatley's challenging, comedic, confrontational filmography: it's pitch-black in tone, yet boasts laugh-out-loud moments; it's about capitalism's inherent corruption, yet finds beauty in expensively designed trappings.
Or maybe "expensively designed traps" is more fitting. Set in a brutalist skyscraper in an unspecified year—everything here looks like how people in the '70s imagined the future—High-Rise charts the Lord of the Flies-esque decay of the building's society. Early on, the lounging rich live up high and the working class below, their caste system as confining as iron bars. Then the tower's society falls apart: There are beatings. There's suicide. There's rape. Tom Hiddleston pats a dog on the head, then turns it on a spit.
If you've got triggers, consider them warned: Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump dive into blood and squalor, with the Kubrickian backdrop of the high-rise getting more claustrophobic with each scene. Hiddleston—along with Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, and Jeremy Irons—is game for the film's mash-up of allegory and horror. No director better straddles the line between grindhouse and arthouse than Wheatley, and the surreal High-Rise offers him a perfect fit.
Ending, as it does, with an ominous quote from Margaret Thatcher ("There is only one economic system in the world, and that is capitalism"), High-Rise is intensely British—this is the sort of film in which every character clearly represents something, and whether you can figure out what will depend on your familiarity with economic theory and recent British history. But High-Rise also grinds along on a surface level, with a cruel gaze that captures the socioeconomic realities of 2016. Sure, the plot might get hazy—but as long as you take it as a given that greed fuels all and that humans are rotten to their cores, it all checks out.