High-Rise – New Release Review

high-rise-posterTom Hiddleston stars in this dizzying an long awaited adaptation…

Here’s a message for you: don’t try to seal yourself off in a state-of-the-art, all-mod-cons, futuristic Brutalist high-rise planned living apartment complex tower block of flats. What’ll inevitably happen is that the deprived people of the lower floors will come to resent the well-off on the higher floors and everything will descend into eerily familiar chaos once the power cuts come.

That’s exactly what happens to a slightly flat Tom Hiddleston in High-Rise, an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 satirical sci-fi novel, by professional and romantic partners Ben Wheatley (director) and Amy Jump (writer and editor), previously responsible for the solid Kill List, the blackly hilarious Sightseers and the invigoratingly strange A Field in England. What’s been delivered here has almost none of the consciously artsy approach evidenced on those earlier films, delivering instead with a sharp, retro-futurist visual aesthetic and scene after scene of comic debauchery and/or brutal violence. “We’ve got to show the lower floors that we can throw a better party than them!” grouches one of the stereotypically awful upper-class louts as society goes to Hell below, and, for all its studied misanthropy, the film itself manages to throw quite a bloody good party too, if elegantly-staged chaos is your thing (and if not, why not?).

The one element that niggles slightly is an approach of slight earnestness to a story that doesn’t require it. For the most part any thematic resonances the story has are proudly placed on surface level: is leading a raiding party to the supermarket about anything other than consumerism? No, of course not, and even the slowest should be able to conclude that the film’s themes are, in no particular order, social breakdown, the unforeseen ways technologies shape lifestyles, and the ugliness of certain human urges. It shouldn’t, then, be necessary to play a Margaret Thatcher speech just as the credits roll, as if the point hadn’t been made clear enough in the preceding two hours of nastiness. But that’s a problem inherent to depictions of excess (viz. The Wolf of Wall Street, Filth): too much excess can get excessive, and the picture might have sharpened itself slightly with a little more plot direction and a little less thematic repetition; there’s no need to be selfconscious about it.

J.G. Ballard’s novel has a simple enough premise with a good dose of satire, and, unlike some of the author’s other works, has never been called unfilmable. As a matter of fact, while High-Rise marks the first time the novel has been officially adapted, it has already been put into service providing a loose basis for the Doctor Who serial Paradise Towers as well as, by some kind of artistic synchronicity, having provided a tone and theme for David Cronenberg’s Shivers, actually made at the same time the novel was being written. The conscious influence of Cronenberg can be detected all over High-Rise, the chameleonic Wheatley adapting his style to allow for certain characteristic touches of the other director, and I don’t only mean the presence of a perpetually weary Jeremy Irons as the building’s architect, but also bits of Cronenberg’s flatly objective violence, his out-of-control characters, his nightmarish technological visions, surreal bursts of sexuality, fascination with the orgiastic, and visions of the re-shaping of humanity. They are, of course, all themes that Cronenberg shares with Ballard, but that’s just the synchronicity I was talking about for you.

Have you seen High-Rise yet? Will you be venturing into the cinemas to catch it, and if not, why not? Send us your thoughts in the comment box below!

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