Sick build­ing syn­drome

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

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.

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