Netflix Dark Dystopian Thriller With Major Marvel Star Reveals The Worst Of Humanity

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Updated

High-Rise 2015

The sea of dystopian films is vast indeed, but Netflix’s High-Rise emerges as a noteworthy and chilling exploration of society’s darkest instincts. If only for the powerful performance anchoring it—a portrayal executed by Loki himself, Tom Hiddleston—the film based on J.G. Ballard’s seminal 1975 novel of the same name plunges streamers into a brutal, fascinating universe. 

Tom Hiddleston In High-Rise

High-Rise 2015

Like so much sci-fi, the film mirrors our own world by seemingly departing from it. In this case, the movie depicts a ferocious microcosm of societal collapse—all within the confines of a luxurious skyscraper. 

High-Rise is set in a towering residential building designed to function as an autonomous utopia; it follows physiologist Dr. Robert Laing, played by Hiddleston. Young and seemingly reserved, Laing wants only solitude. 

Moral Decay And Corruption

High-Rise 2015

However, the good doctor soon learns the edifice’s glossy exterior conceals brewing chaos. Indeed, the tower’s segments are starkly segregated by class—the wealthy elite enjoy the penthouses, while the lower floors house the less affluent. Of course, this being a movie and not merely a recreation of our own world, resources beyond the tower commence dwindling, infrastructure falters, and the societal order inside the high-rise plunges into abject savagery. 

As streamers tilt on the edge of their seats, Laing navigates this treacherous environment while witnessing the moral decay corrupting his neighbors and navigating his instinct for survival. As the film’s tension escalates, culminating in violent climaxes and brutal betrayals, a grim reflection of human nature confronts the audience. 

Hiddleston Steals The Show

High-Rise 2015

Overtly the beating heart of the film, Hiddleston’s portrayal of Laing is equally captivating and unnerving. The thespian contributes a nuanced depth to the character, counterbalancing the doctor’s clinical detachment with bursts of visceral intensity. The portrayal grounds High-Rise, offering an engaging lens through which streamers witness a descent into anarchy, however much they do so through covered eyes. 

The film also benefits from an ensemble cast; Sienna Miller plays the enigmatic Charlotte Melville, while Jeremy Irons handles the skyscraper’s architect, Anthony Royal. Each actor holds their own, enriching the film’s disquieting atmosphere. 

Bleak And Brutal

High-Rise 2015

Amy Jump penned the adaptation of Ballard’s novel, which largely adheres to the author’s original vision while also infusing it with a welcome, modern flair. Ben Wheatley directed High-Rise, and his sensibility emphasized the claustrophobic reality of the building, conveying to audiences the trapped sensation bedeviling the characters. 

That said, the movie debuted to mixed reviews (a 60 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, to quantify it). While some critics enjoyed and lauded the film’s ambition and performances, others protested the bleak, even brutal content, confessing it was difficult to endure. Critics also decried the movie for lack of plot.

Regardless of the split expert opinions, the film earned a cult following—particularly and understandably among devotees of dystopian sci-fi and speculative fiction, which Ballard mastered. 

A Sci-Fi Lord Of The Flies

lord of the flies

For the literary minded, both the novel and film versions of High-Rise echo themes originally depicted in William Golding’s classic study of humanity’s barbarity, Lord of the Flies. In Golding’s work, young boys find themselves stranded on an unpopulated island before descending into barbarism; Hiddleston’s film relocates this process to an urban, sci-fi inspired universe. 

But both convey profound, unsettling themes and philosophical musings, which are also at work in titles like Snowpiercer and The Platform. 

If all this sounds like a promising, albeit disturbing viewing experience, stream High-Rise today.