Dystopias are a dime a dozen. Heck, we’re living in one. So what makes “High-Rise” so special? The film opens with a disheveled Dr. Laing looking like a character out of a “Mad Max” movie, wandering around the destroyed building with a really cute dog. He then proceeds to roast that dog’s leg on a spit while smoking a cigarette, and we flash back three months to before it all went to hell. You’ll know whether “High-Rise” is for you within the first five minutes: it’s brutally straight-forward and much of the humor is found in horrific, bleak situations. The movie is at once completely straight-faced and sardonic, and while that tone may not jive with everyone, I find something comforting about the matter-of-fact presentation of the end of this microcosm of society.
Sure, some of the characters are absolute sociopaths, and others are like caricatures of the rich, but that in and of itself feels appropriately real. Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously said “hell is other people,” and “High-Rise” is perhaps cinema’s greatest exploration of that idea. Not only do characters make one another miserable until it escalates into murder, but Laing spends a good portion of the movie driving himself mad trying to fit in. He makes himself uncomfortable repeatedly in an attempt to join the upper echelons of the rich, to understand the struggles of the poor, and in the end, he finds only misery.
“High-Rise” is a visual feast, and Wheatley relishes in the gratuitousness of it all. Whether it’s the Brutalist interiors of most of the building or the opulent apartments of the ridiculously wealthy, it’s going to be gorgeous. Even the brutality is kind of pretty, though it’s hard to find the beauty in violence. “High-Rise” is sexy, smart, and a little sadistic, but it’s a pretty fascinating mirror to hold up to our current reality.