I can’t claim to be a particular devotee of the work of J.G. Ballard. The only novel I’ve read of his is the atypically autobiographical (and excellent) “Empire Of The Sun”; and my memory of his dystopian short stories is that they are very well executed, but creepy and cold. In this respect Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of “High Rise” is exemplary in its fidelity to the tone set by its original author.
Tom Hiddleston, bringing the dubious composure he brought to the BBC’s wonderful “The Night Manager” plays Laing, a physiologist, who moves into an upper-scale high-rise block apartment block in a large British city, and is implicated in events which lead to the already shaky infrastructure which exists deteriorating completely, apparently mirroring events in wider society. Luke Evans co-stars as his rebellious, slightly more proletarian downstairs co-resident; with Sienna Miller as the sexy upstairs neighbours; and Jeremy Irons as the Architect, who isn’t nearly in control of things as he likes to pretend.
The décor, cars, clothes, hair-styles and typefaces place us squarely in the drab 1970s, as does Wheatley’s directorial style, with its focus on brutalist architecture, its disjointed narrative, and the kind of clipped, dislocatory dubbing which calls to mind European art cinema of that era (Bunuel, Antonioni etc). Along with screenwriter (and co-editor Amy Jump), he creates an unsettling and unsettled atmosphere, with the escalating nightmarishness signalled from the very beginning.
Full of reliable, familiar faces (Reece Shearsmith, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes), and with a soundtrack which cleverly repurposes Abba, the film is flawlessly executed, but also thoroughly unpleasant. This, I’m sure, is the filmmakers’ intention, as they “predict” the rise of Thatcherite amorality.
The look is remarkable, the performances flawless – “High Rise” is an artistic success in its own terms. It is not an experience, however, which I will want to revisit any time soon. An extra point for having “Industrial Estate” by The Fall play over the end credits, though.