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