High-Rise ★★½

tiff 2015 film 12

Ben Wheatley and I don't get along too well.
I respect his originality and am always curious to see how it cashes out, but his films can't quite keep me engaged for more than half of their entire runtime.
High-Rise is no different.

Wheatley condenses all of the the building blocks of a capitalist democracy to fit in Elysium Tower, a strange place with even stranger tenants, each representing one aspect of the socio-political continuum. There's the 1% "architect" who controls the building living on the top floor and the Che loving ground level rebel who takes on causes and fights for change, and then there is everyone in between. When the system collapses, all hell breaks loose.

The set-up is interesting but also predictable in a way. And while it is absurd, it isn't the kind of absurdity I find appealing. High-Rise seems more akin to Brazil, another film I'm not particularly fond of. Oh I like it well enough and there are great scenes, but it isn't a favourite even though it should be given how much I love the absurd. Maybe I'm not a fan of political absurdity (although I loved Jon Stewart!). Maybe I find it too easy to show the results of a political system that's been stripped down to its core and then exaggerated to make a point. Maybe that's what I mean by "predictable" and maybe that's what I find tiresome.

At first I thought High-Rise might fit in more with the kind of absurdity I do love. Lanthimos' Dogtooth and The Lobster both focus on a single building and its occupants like High-Rise (I'm playing a bit loose here) and in both films the characters are unusual to say the least. So why like these two? Maybe it is because I couldn't tell where the stories were headed. Maybe the absurdity is more surprising.

I don't know if I will ever figure it out. But I do know that unfortunately for me Wheatley isn't my guy. If he is yours, you will most likely love this film. You may find it should be 10 or 20 minutes shorter, but odds are good you will love it.

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