Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keely Hawes, Augustus Prew, Peter Ferdinando
Plot: A high-rise tower block on the outskirts of London is the setting for a self-contained collaspse of society as the social classes go to war with each other.
Review: Another novel deemed unfilmable it remained a passion project for producer Jeremy Thomas since he bought the rights to JG Ballard’s novel when it was released in 1975. Since then it has seen both Nicolas Roeg and Vincenzo Natali attached to the project before it finally came to Director Ben Wheatley who for myself is another director much like Steve Mcqueen whose hardly set my world on fire with his films to date, despite being seemingly universally acclaimed by everyone else.
Despite my reservations about Wheatly directing this adaptation here he really delivers something quite different to what we have seen from him previously as here he takes cues from the sterile cityscapes of Cronenberg’s “Shivers” and Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” while maintaing the period setting from the novel’s release even though its not explicitly stated that the film is set in the 70’s from the lack of modern tech, fashions and the fact that everyone is constantly smoking its clear when the film is supposed to be set. This is also a film which opens with Tom Hiddleston’s Physiologist Dr. Robert Laing barbecuing a dog while the world around him in the High-rise has clearly gone straight to hell as the one stylish and modern surroundings have turned into a world of chaos and filth.
From his surprising opening the film flashes back three months previous as following the death of his sister Laing moves into the apartment on the 25th floor fitting of his current social status as the building has been designed to house people based on their status meaning that those higher up in the society live on the top floors, while the common folks live on the lower floors with the building also containing everything the residents might need from a supermarket and swimming pool through to a school so that the majority of the residents never leave the building apart from the daily mass migration of people going to and returning from work all at the same time with an almost industry feeling to such synchronised movement. Even Laing isn’t free from the allure of this lifestyle especially when he is invited to attend a party in the building’s penthouse occupied by the buildings fittingly named architect Royal (Irons).
While the decline in the social infrastructure starts small with blackouts and blocked trash shoots its safe to say things quickly get out of hand fast, with Wheatly seemingly feeling that those few slight annoyances are enough for him to put the pedal down and lurge the events forward in the tower block so that life inside the High-rise is suddenly thrown into total chaos being spearheaded by lower floor resident Wilder (Evans) who while introduced as perticularly sleazy social climber soon become a full blown revolutionary leader to the point where the higher up residents who’ve descended into Caligula style debauchery attempt to convince Laing to have him lobotomised seemingly for fear that his actions will ruin their partying while seemingly oblivious for the most part about the chaos erupting on the lower floors.
An extremely visual film the beauty here is really in the small details scattered throughout the chaos from aspects of the characters costumes to things happening in the background such as the documentary film crew covering the supermarket riot, meaning there is always something to see of witness here especially with the cast of characters being so numerous, which equally proves to be one of the downfalls here, as many of these characters get lost in the mix, while when they start to get increasingly grotty and disheveled its hard to tell what role they played originally. Others such as Sienna Miller’s Charlotte are just forgettable because of her perfomance...seriously who is still giving her work?
Outside of Miller giving yet another tepid performance the rest of the cast are likeable in their roles even though the performances throughout differ as Tom Hiddleston is engaging throughout as the lead, while his opening and closing narration made me wish that it had been carried throughout. Jeremy Irons meanwhile gives an equally interesting performance as Royal even if his character is hampered by some questionable plot holes, such as why he’s happy to let the building decend in chaos, let alone why he sends away the only two inquiring coppers we see. My personal favourite though was seeing Reece Shearsmith as the orthodontist Nathan whose ultimate fate we actually get to see in the opening and who arguable become more interesting the more the building descends into chaos.
While I might have preferred this film over Wheatley’s other work its still a diversive piece that won’t be for everyone, but for Ballard fan’s or those who can appreciate the vein of pitch black humour which runs through the film especially when this is a truly unique vision and one which justifies the years in development hell, while at the same time leaving me wondering where Wheatly goes from here.