Friday, 8 April 2016
#26 HIGH RISE
Channeling the essence of Cronnenberg for all he's worth, this is Ben Wheatley's film version of the J.G. Ballard book of the same name. Indeed this was the second book by Ballard, the first being Crash, that was declared 'unfilmable' and left so for over 10 years.
Set in the 1970s the film sees the new resident, Doctor Robert Laine (Tom Hiddleston) move into his luxurious apartment on the 25th floor of a tower block built for the well-off and super rich by reclusive architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons). Royal lives in the roof-top penthouse of the strange finger shaped building of the title. The building has everything you would ever need, from swimming pool to supermarket to gym (see, everything) so the residents need never leave. With his belongings still boxed, Laine wastes no time in sunbathing nude on the balcony much to the delight of his upstairs neighbour, single mother, Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller) and her horny would-be boyfriend, Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a brutish documentary film-maker, who lives with his heavily pregnant wife on a much lower floor. ANYWAY, before you can say "bloody hell, aren't you even going to unpack your kettle?" Laine and Melville are shagging like bunnies on the concrete balcony of her apartment and Laine is introduced to Royal and the world of the super rich in the guise of a fancy dress party. But it isn't long before cracks appear in this utopian society and as the power starts to falter in the tower and the fancy fruits start go off in the super market. Then battle lines are drawn up along social standing and wealth and civil war erupts between the floors. Looting parties, dressed in colour co-ordinated shell suits set out to find canapes and vol-en-vents and before you can say, 'Italian post-apocalyptic, straight-to-video, exploitation movie', bands of nomads dressed in rags and sporting gear roam the stairwells looking for women, food and wine...
Oblivious to the outside world, or is that the other way round? Tribal warfare leads to brutal violence, rape and murder as social moires and law and order breakdown. And through it all strolls Hiddleston, emotionally locked in, like the residents are physically, many meaningful conversations are had about class and society, acts of extreme violence erupt and it's all very much an adult Lord of the Flies. It ends without any true closure either emotionally or story-wise and you're left to ponder whether or not it was a good choice for a first date movie.
This film has a strange hyper real atmosphere, the actors except for Hiddleston deliver performances that boarder on near parody, emoting in an exaggerated manner. This married with the pin-perfect 1970's set design gives this film an other-wordly, dream-like quality. And yet there's something missing, a sense that something has been lost in the translation. It not nearly funny enough, the humour should be blacker than ink and yet it's not quite, there's a sense that the characters know a lot more than we the audience do and that's frustrating, and ultimately we're left unfullfilled.
Still, Ben Wheatley is a fascinating director and this was a valiant but flawed effort.