HIG H- RISE
Sick building syndrome
released 18 March 15 | 119 minutes
Director Ben Wheatley
Cast Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller,
Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
Last time someone adapted a JG Ballard novel, it caused quite the furore: the Evening Standard’s critic labelled David Cronenberg’s Crash “beyond depravity”, and the Daily Mail called for a ban. While Ben Wheatley’s take on a similar work is unlikely to provoke the same intensity of response ( the fact it’s a 15 certificate shows how far we’ve come…), it should inspire a fair few audience walkouts.
Borderline dystopian fantasy, Ballard’s blackly comic 1975 fable of the fragility of civilisation is set in an apartment building whose well- heeled residents gradually, inexplicably, descend into sexual decadence and tribal violence. Like Cronenberg before him, Wheatley takes an appropriately detached, coolly Kubrickian approach. He’s scrupulously faithful to the source – Ballardians will nod appreciatively on hearing some of the author’s clinically crisp phrasing vocalised verbatim.
There’s still room for invention, mind you. Within the beautifully stylised, strangely timeless vision of the ’ 70s through which Tom Hiddleston’s protagonist passes, Wheatley conjures resonant, borderline- surrealist images: fancy dress revellers in Regency finery; a murder viewed through a child’s kaleidoscope. The soundtrack is impressively inventive too, encompassing krautrockers Can, a mordant Portishead cover of Abba’s “SOS”, and the deliciously ironic use of Shipping Forecast snooze- inducer “Sailing By”.
But Ballard’s novel presents challenges which are difficult for even the most talented filmmaker to overcome. Frankly, there’s not much to it: over the course of 166 pages, a society slowly slides into dog- eating derangement, with no real rhyme or reason. It’s difficult to spin tension or drama from that – or to make a story about the loss of affect itself affecting. This is compounded by the fact that the film takes about 20 minutes too long to make the descent. Arthouse audiences probably won’t start ripping out seats and fornicating in the aisles after 45 minutes, but they might politely tut at their watches. Ian Berriman
Both Withnail & I’s Bruce Robinson and The Man Who Fell To Earth’s Paul Mayersberg previously wrote High- Rise screenplays.
Taking time to reflect.