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Netflix Pick: Symbolic Anarchy in ‘High-Rise’ (2016)

High-Rise is a 2016 drama about a man who moves into a self-contained 40-story apartment building, complete with shopping and exercise facilities, soon learning the floors are divided between the classes, causing a revolt that sweeps the entire complex into anarchy.

Today’s Netflix Pick is a surprising bit of chaotic fun that is as sharp a social commentary as it is a great looking film. Starring Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons, and based on the 1975 novel of the same name by J. G. Ballard, it’s a dark and often funny look at class warfare set in a metaphorical society. It’s High-Rise and it’s what you’re watching tonight. Here’s why.

THE STORY: Directed by Ben Wheatley, it follows Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston), the newest member in a closed-off community trapped in a skyscraper apartment building. He’s up on the 25th floor, leaves his boxes unpacked and soon settles into this strange social experiment where the lower floors are beginning a revolt against those above. The building’s architect, a mysterious man named Anthony Royal (Irons), lives in the penthouse with his disenchanted wife in lavish wealth and spends his time tweaking his design as the people below sink into anarchy, where sex and violence and murder reign. The place falls into an ordered madness and yet no one ever leaves, even though the front doors are open. At the center of it falls Laing, who indulges in both sides of the conflict committing act of cruelty and humanity. But can he survive?

High-Rise
High-Rise, 2016 © HanWay Films

WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: The great thing about Wheatley’s film is how accessible it is despite the challenges of keeping up with the symbolism. We are meant to ask larger questions, but it’s never so hard to work them out, even as the film spirals into very dark territory. Hiddleston is terrific throughout, the neutral participate in the battle between the up and down, a strangely immovable force that serves as balance in a time of aggressive upheaval. The film is visually stunning and held together even more tightly by Clint Mansell‘s powerfully affecting score. This is a surreal experience, and while it might divide audiences, is nonetheless a great time at the movies. It’s streaming on Netflix right now.

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