“High-Rise”

Metro USA (Boston) - - WKND - MP

Di­rec­tor: Ben Wheat­ley Stars: Tom Hid­dle­ston, Luke Evans Rat­ing: R

Re­leased in 1975, J.G. Bal­lard’s “High-Rise” reads like a hi­lar­i­ous prophecy. It’s a book for to­day’s gloomy pes­simist, per­fect for a time when Amer­ica’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion has ac­ti­vated deepseated prej­u­dices, when so­cial me­dia in­spires trib­al­ism and mob jus­tice, when we ap­pear to have be­come ap­a­thetic ar­chi­tects of our own de­struc­tion. The new film adap­ta­tion sort of gets this, if you look at it askew, if you give it the ben­e­fit of the doubt. Ben Wheat­ley and screen­writer Amy Jump (of the also darkly hi­lar­i­ous mur­der­ers-in-love romp “Sight­seers”) have taken an al­le­gor­i­cal work long pre­sumed un­filmable and turned in a mad, deca­dent, pro­duc­tively ex­haust­ing, darkly funny yet some­times overly lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Wheat­ley and Jump still get a lot right. Re­tain­ing the book’s shag hair and side­burns-heavy ’70s set­ting, it be­holds the fall of a high­tech apart­ment com­plex, the kind where ev­ery­thing seems mod­ern, all ameni­ties are

on the grounds and no one ever has to go out­side ex­cept for work (if that). Our guide to the in­san­ity is Robert Laing (Tom Hid­dle­ston), a mild-man­nered doc­tor who doesn’t fit in with the aris­tolov­ing richies in the up­per floors or any­one else. There’s no sin­gle in­ci­dent that causes the rift, but very quickly the floors be­come trash-strewn bat­tle­grounds, swank par­ties turn into vi­o­lent or­gies and not even dogs are safe when the in-house su­per­mar­ket runs out of stock. Most chill­ing of all, al­most ev­ery­one seems to pre­fer it that way.

This “High-Rise” is peer­less at nasty sight gags: a dead man’s head com­fort­ably buried inside a smashed tele­vi­sion set, a swim­ming pool filled with fresh corpses, an Al­sa­tian leg twirling lov­ingly over a pa­tio fire. Yet it can’t help feel Wheat­ley and Jump are sim­ply bet­ter at stir­ring up an end­less, out-of-con­trol stream of may­hem than they are slip­ping in deeper thought, whereas Bal­lard could do both with a swag­ger that be­trayed no ef­fort. This “High-Rise” goes as crazy as its char­ac­ters, and it doesn’t even ar­rive at the same un­nerv­ing end point as the source. Still, the fi­nale it finds in­stead will do in a pinch. Ditto the film.

MAG­NO­LIA PIC­TURES

Tom Hid­dle­ston looks good while try­ing to stay alive in “High-Rise.”

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