When High-Rise works it works brilliantly, but it never sustains that brilliance beyond a handful of potent scenes. The rest of the film is simply dull, and the aloof satire comes across as an apathetic shrug with little insight beyond the obvious when it comes to class struggles. The strokes are so broad (rich people dress up as 18th century aristocrats at a party!) it’s best to just appreciate the goofy tonal shifts, beautiful cinematography, and amazing soundtrack (Portishead’s cover of SOS is a thing of wonder).
There are some pointed observations on how women are all too often the victims of class revolutions, no matter the strata they’re on, but this is never seriously examined, but tossed aside for jokey decadence and dialogue like “Who is going to fuck me in the ass?”, a scene I assume is meant to be pitch-black humor… right? Most surprisingly, given the source material and director, the film is toothless, like a knife fight with foam weapons and knee pads.
Despite my lukewarm opinion, Wheatley is always an adventurous and fascinating filmmaker, so definitely take a stab at a viewing if you find any of his other films worthwhile, or if you admire Ballard’s work. While I admit I’m being unfair in contemplating this, I can’t help but wonder how Cronenberg’s icy intellect would have interpreted such an epic Ballardian nightmare that was long considered unfilmmable, given his excellent adaptation of Spider, another novel I never imagined could be successfully translated to the screen.
I guess we’ll always have Shivers to look at as a Cronenbergian suggestion of what High-Rise could have been.