Husband and wife filmmaking team Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump, whose Kill List (2011) and Sightseers (2012) combined violence and social commentary to great effect, fail to make any impact with their latest film High-Rise. This British dystopian sci-fi drama, based on the 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard (Empire of the Sun, Crash), stars Tom Hiddleston as a doctor living in a ravaged luxury tower just outside London in the 1970s. The apartment complex, designed by an idealistic architectural mastermind (Jeremy Irons) who lives cloistered away in the penthouse, allows its residents to become gradually uninterested in, and cut off from, the outside world. But the infrastructure deteriorates the more the class tensions between residents rise.
Like so many of the dystopian tales crowding cinemas these days, High-Rise is overwhelmed by its central conceit and overwrought visual metaphor. There isn’t much story here, just ideas—and the ideas, while perhaps fresh and challenging in the 1970s, feel all too commonplace today. Jump struggles to maintain forward momentum and narrative focus after the initial scenes of curious exposition. And after half an hour of monotonous sharp angles and grey tones, Wheatley can no longer keep us interested in the futuristic building that is his true central character. This movie is a subtext and a sensibility inertly looking for a story.