Review: High-Rise Invasion By Cristina Valenzuela
Netflix’s High Rise Invasion is a psychological horror and survival series that follows high school student Yuri Honjo (Suzie Yeung), who suddenly finds herself trapped in a world full of interconnected, sinister skyscrapers. With no way to reach the ground and masked deviants roaming around, her only guiding light is her brother Rika (Zeno Robinson), who she communicates with via phone. When a “Mask” destroys her phone, she resolves she must find Rika and avoid being “pushed to the brink of despair,” as it appears the Masks aren’t interested in killing, but ensuring their victims commit suicide. There’s a bizarre game with several players like Yuri and Rika going on, but what’s with the masked figures, and how will anyone ever escape?
Opening Shot: The camera pans over a pool of blood to a man who’s just been slain with a sword in the middle of his head. We see a shadowy figure wearing a mask that appears to be smiling. He peers at the camera with hollow eyes before turning from his fresh kill and lumbering off down a corridor.
The Gist: One moment Yuri Honjo was living her normal life in the real world. The next, she found herself transported to a bizarre realm full of skyscrapers connected by rickety bridges. Still wearing her school uniform, she finds herself in this totally unfamiliar place, surrounded by dizzyingly tall buildings and unable to reach the ground.
Luckily, she still has a working phone. After trying to reach her parents over and over, she has no idea what to do next. When her brother Rika contacts her, at least she can take comfort in the fact she isn’t alone. But the fact of the matter is, she never was. Figures known as “Masks” roam the high rises, each armed with weapons and super strength. They all share one thing in common: an eerie white mask with a grin etched into it.
Yuri discovers through Rika that they aren’t killers, even though that’s how they seem. Instead, these foreboding figures’ main goal is to push people to kill themselves, either by jumping from a high rise building to the ground or any other means they deem acceptable. There’s no reason for it, but these spine-tingling mask-wearers lurch around like Jason in Friday the 13th looking for their next victim.
One shows up right as Rika tells Yuri to look for the tallest building around her and try to get to it as he sets off on a search for her. As he attacks, Yuri drops her phone while escaping. The Mask pierces it with his weapon, leaving Yuri without her only lifeline. Her only option is to run, seemingly, until a bullet pierces the Mask, literally, and another shot hits his chest.
Yuri’s overjoyed to see other “normal” humans arrive, especially two police officers. But all isn’t well, as the junior officer pushes his superior officer over the edge of the skyscraper and threatens Yuri with a sword, forcing her to undress so he can sexually assault her. It’s a short-lived attempt, as a sniper-wielding Mask a few buildings away fires off a lethal shot at the officer harassing Yuri.
Yuri escapes, believing the Mask to have helped her, before he fires a shot at her too. This Mask nurses a cigarette before disappearing while Yuri escapes, only to come face-to-face with another Mask clad in a maid uniform, watching her from the roof of a nearby skyscraper. Yuri assumes when the Mask moves that she’s letting Yuri go, but she instead leaps over to Yuri and brandishes her weapon. The pair battle before Yuri can fire off a few shots from the gun she took from the fallen police officer before.
But there’s something different about this Mask. As the white face covering splinters away, it reveals a human face. Yuri begins to realize these Masks may not be monsters, but humans just like her…and the masks themselves seem to be controlling them. What’s the secret behind the mask and why do the supposed people wearing them seem to be under their spell?
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? There are strong Future Diary vibes in High Rise Invasion, mostly due to the secret identities behind each Mask. They also appear to have different motives and abilities, much like the diary holders from the gritty diary-centric adventure. The element of shock and surprise permeated every aspect of that anime series, and High Rise Invasion seems no different. In terms of tone and style, it also resembles shows like Death Note or Deadman Wonderland.
Our Take: High Rise Invasion is a chilling adrenaline rush that throws its characters into precarious situations at every turn. It could be a slow burn, but instead it chooses to throw everything it has at viewers as soon as the series begins, and to great effect. For a 21-volume manga series, if this first season is going to cover as much ground as possible, it needed to hit the ground running, and it did so spectacularly.
In so many other shows, it would take a few episodes for a character like Yuri to get her bearings, agonize over this deranged new world she finds herself in, then another for her to wise up and get ready to jump into the challenges this predicament foists upon her. In the first episode, we know how Yuri arrived, that she wants to find and save her brother, and she’ll do what she has to do to survive.
To that end, Yuri is a special female protagonist who’s afraid of what’s coming next and killing potential humans, but she isn’t stupid. She picks up weapons and arms herself with them. When she sees supplies, she takes them. There’s no frustrating moments where you feel as though you need to scream at her through the screen and tell her to get hold of herself, and that, combined with the show’s breakneck pacing make for a great combination.
And then there are the Masks themselves. It’s one thing to run from a killer, and another still to know someone’s goal is to push you to taking your own life. Seeing the Masks push others to jumping off of ledges is gruesome, and you never quite get over watching a victim’s body free fall to the ground in a fountain of blood. But it does hammer home how high the stakes are here and what exactly Yuri is up against.
This is a series that practically screams “live-action reboot” or a film, as it’s a violent, raucous, and smart thriller that feels good from start to finish. It doesn’t dally about, it doesn’t patronize audiences with endless explanations, and there’s enough mystery there for a guaranteed set of intriguing reveals that will undoubtedly put more than a few kinks into the system.
Yuri finds herself forced to strip by a corrupt police officer who’s just killed his captain. There’s a moment of brief nudity as she removes her top and begins to remove her underwear while being threatened with a Japanese sword. Later, her skirt is ripped at the side. There are several shots of Yuri’s underwear, but nothing extremely gratuitous beyond the initial police officer encounter. A female Mask is wearing a suggestive maid outfit.
Parting Shot: As Yuri peers out into a hallway from her hiding place, she finds a man pleading for his life as he has an elderly mother and dog. She readies her weapon to see another blonde high school student without a mask holding the man at gunpoint before the screen goes black. The mysterious student fires, and the only thing we see is her gun lighting up the darkness.
Sleeper Star: A Mask armed with a sniper rifle has curious intentions. Instead of killing Yuri directly, he picks off the cop sexually harassing her, almost as if he’s looking to help her. He shoots at her, but almost as if to keep up a facade. He’s a smoker and seemingly cool customer, and ends up stealing the scene when he makes an appearance. Is he friend or foe? He also carries a photo of Yuri in his wallet, indicating the two may know each other. Unraveling his mystery will undoubtedly be one focal point throughout the show.
Most Pilot-y Line: Yuri chats with her brother Rika via cell phone before it’s unceremoniously shattered. She sets the stage, answering the biggest question on everyone’s minds: how did she get here? “I was just at school, and then all of a sudden, I’m on this huge high rise!” It’s simple and succinct, but it’s really for the viewers’ benefit.
Our Call: High Rise Invasion is a no-frills thrill ride through a manic, depraved world. It uses realistic rules and characters to enforce the feeling that this situation could indeed happen to you, which makes it all the more terrifying. Sensitive viewers may note there are multiple graphic depictions of suicide, but for anyone looking for an action-packed, suspenseful series, these 12 episodes are undoubtedly going to satisfy.