THE HIGH LIFE

Tom Hid­dle­ston lives it up in Ben Wheat­ley’s High- Rise.

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Red Alert -

For those un­fa­mil­iar with JG Bal­lard’s 1975 novel, High- Rise, it’s more than a lit­tle crazy. The in­hab­i­tants of a state- of- the- art Lon­don tower block en­gage in class war­fare as fail­ures in tech­nol­ogy in­sti­gate an es­ca­lat­ing orgy of de­struc­tion. Ma­raud­ing bat­tles oc­cur in the cor­ri­dors and stair­wells; Dionysian par­ties last night and day in apart­ments; the mask of ci­vil­ity is stamped un­der­foot as pri­mal urges are lustily sat­is­fied.

Forty years in the mak­ing ( even Ni­co­las Roeg couldn’t crack a cin­e­matic adap­ta­tion), a movie of High- Rise fi­nally ( dis) graces our screens courtesy of Brit di­rec­tor du jour Ben Wheat­ley ( Kill List, Sight­seers, Doc­tor Who), work­ing from a script by his wife and reg­u­lar scribe Amy Jump. Pre­mier­ing at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val and then play­ing the Lon­don fest, Wheat­ley’s un­com­pro­mis­ing vi­sion of a fu­tur­is­tic 1970s floored many, per­plexed oth­ers.

“I think there was re­sis­tance be­cause of the gen­eral idea of a re­ceived Hol­ly­wood kind of nar­ra­tive,” chuck­les Wheat­ley. “When you push that to the edge, it be­comes Die Hard. There’s noth­ing wrong with that, but the idea that the pro­tag­o­nist must win at all costs and will de­feat all the bad­dies along the way, like a videogame…” He sighs. “There’s a ver­sion of High- Rise where Laing gets to the top of the tower and goes, ‘ I am the king of high- rise. Yippee- ki- yay, moth­er­fucker!’ But [ the book and the film] is a lot of go­ing up and down the build­ing but not re­ally get­ting any­where. Laing him­self is a voyeur, like the au­di­ence; he doesn’t ever re­ally get in­volved. That is the story.”

The afore­men­tioned Laing is a doc­tor from the 25th floor. Voyeur or par­tic­i­pant, he, like ev­ery­one else, un­der­goes a re­mark­able change across the course of the film. Wheat­ley de­scribes Tom Hid­dle­ston, the ac­tor who por­trays Laing, as a “con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional”, point­ing out that the film was shot out of or­der and yet his lead­ing man had to re­main “in con­trol of Laing’s col­lapse, and that’s a bas­tard hard thing to do.”

Hid­dle­ston in­sists that Bal­lard’s prose gives all the notes he could ever need. “It puts your head in a place,” he says, then muses: “At what point do you ac­cept your new pri­mal an­i­mal­is­tic truth, which is a warped – or sim­ply more true – ver­sion of who you are? When does Dr Robert Laing – an el­e­gant, so­phis­ti­cated phys­i­ol­o­gist – be­come Laing: man, pro­tec­tor, loner, wolf ?”

Shot in the aban­doned Bru­tal­ist husk of Ban­gor Cas­tle Leisure Cen­tre in North­ern Ire­land, with the same few spa­ces re­dec­o­rated again and again to cre­ate the il­lu­sion of the many in­te­ri­ors of a 40- storey su­per­struc­ture,

High- Rise man­ages to make its $ 6m bud­get stretch an aw­ful long way. The film feels claus­tro­pho­bic and self- con­tained, but the tower is re­mark­ably con­vinc­ing. Add a starry sup­port cast that in­cludes the likes of Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, Si­enna Miller, Elis­a­beth Moss, Reece Shear­smith, James Pure­foy and Peter Fer­di­nando, and you have one of the must- see – if un­doubt­edly con­tro­ver­sial – movies of 2016.

“Bal­lard’s book still feels mod­ern,” says Wheat­ley. “In 20 years’ time, it’ll feel mod­ern. He was writ­ing the sci- fi of the in­ter­nal, and I think that stuff will al­ways be rel­e­vant.”

High- Rise will be re­leased on 18 March by Stu­dioCanal.

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