Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s High-Rise is many things: bold, boundary-pushing, a beautiful, sonically and socially resonant film.
What it is not is coherent. Also, what it is not is realistic, at least as much as a movie can be. It is almost intentionally artificial, and hums with a sense of mimetic representation.
At its lowest, the film resembles nothing more than Anchorman, with its sense of seventies authenticity on full display. It is curious to adapt such a penetrating, difficult work, (see adaptations of J.G. Ballard’s work by David Cronenberg and Steven Spielberg, both spiralling into inauthenticity).
Where the writers Jump and Wheatley succeed, and the filmmaker Wheatley seemingly excels is staying faithful to the spirit of the novel. Obviously, the artifice itself, the High-Rise is metaphorical. It consumes its residents, a young Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston, perhaps too handsome at times), the enticing Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller, English at last), the rugged Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), the architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), and in a surprising turn, Helen Wilder (Elizabeth Moss).
The surprise of the film is that while some might find it inaccessible, it actually makes its point very clear in a closing sequence punctuated by a bursting bubble. It’s almost a shame, then, that so much of the movie is predicated on the eating of a dog, (this is actually presented very early on). It’s as if the movie happily wears its artifice on its sleeve, as, for example, the narrator Laing is heard speaking to the audience by another character. There’s meta and then there’s meta. It’s as though the adaptation stays so faithful as to allow it to belong entirely to Wheatley (and Jump).
Perhaps a little less artifice might have allowed for more reality to seep into the project, making it feel not so cold and isolating. But perhaps that’s the very point of the exercise.