DIR: Ben Wheatley • WRI: Amy Jump • PRO: Jeremy Thomas • DOP: Laurie Rose • DES: Mark Tildesley • MUS: Clint Mansell • CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans
Last year, Redrow Properties was forced to pull an advertisement for an exclusive apartment block in London’s city centre after numerous criticisms on social media noted that lurking behind the highly polished facade of the narrator’s new abode was a Patrick Bateman style insanity. The advert ended with the highly ominous quote, “To look out at the city that could have swallowed you whole and say ‘I did this’. To stand, with the world at your feet.” High-rise luxury living it seems is even marketed toward those with sociopathic inklings, that the success needed to live in such a grandiose abode implies a frame of mind of outright blindness with only a hint of superiority thrown in too.
Ben Wheatley’s new film, High Rise, could be seen as a 110-minute run of that same advertisement bringing it to its sickly conclusion of violence, anarchy and destruction where the protagonist is so straight-edged and devoid of emotions that life amidst the blows is barely even noticed. That all one requires to live in such a space is a temperament neutralized by a life of sticking to the path of low stakes and high returns. The film opens up with the line, ‘Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.’ Such a nonchalant tone of voice highlights the divergence between the scene of carnage and the almost pathological sense of self that is so devoid of emotion, that it can so easily reconcile with the outright destruction of civilisation.
Surrounding Laing (brilliantly played by Tom Hiddlestone) is a bloody corpse and a building in ruins as the civilised high class living usually associated with such quarters has, in the space of three months, rapidly disintegrated into a primitive Hobbesian all-out anarchic nightmare. The calmness of the narrator’s voice and the inability of Laing to do anything but reflect points to the dull and dreary temperament of Laing’s class that Wheatley so wishes to satirise in this film.
Rather than playing up the anarchic demise of civilisation that is so prominent in J.D Ballard’s novel of the same name, Wheatley focuses instead on Laing’s personality (or lack of), the type of personality that can survive in such a deranged environment and even declaim that he ‘has never been happier’ despite the chaos unfolding around him. Wheatley’s cutting satiric jibe at the type of neo-liberalist policies now dominating literally the landscape of London at the expense of any type of social cohesion, is framed through Laing’s cold and blind emotional temperament. Such experimentation is hinted at throughout through the architect (played by Jeremy Irons), a calculating and devilish artist seen as not just the architect of the building but also of conducting some type of deranged social experiment amongst the inhabitants of his tower.
Such contemporary anxieties fuel Wheatley’s adaptation of Ballard’s novel yet seldom do we viewers respond to the anxiety with any feeling of shock or horror. Especially when one thinks back to the squeamishness unleashed at Cronenberg’s adaption of Crash. We experience the cataclysmic demise of the promise of sophistication, of living in the modernist dream turned nightmare as little more than kitsch due to Wheatley’s tongue being somewhat stuck firmly to the side of his cheek. Yet despite such loss of momentum, there are many moments of utter manic joy and the score by Clint Mansell is superb. And never have I heard a more haunting paranoid version of ABBA delivered here by Portishead.
The energy that gives the film its momentum at the start in Wheatley’s own idiosyncratic style begins to feel cumbersome three quarters of the way through as if he finds it difficult to continue to poke humour from society’s disintegration. Of course, this may well be the point, even if the film at time comes dangerously close to choking on its own irony. We are within Laing’s stylised world, a world where we all can live amongst the destruction, the chaos and the barbarity as long as we put a few aesthetic frills upon it and live within another’s dream world. And in watching the Redrow Properties advertisement again, it is even harder to be critical of Wheatley as he delivers such a perfectly timed satirical blow at the ludicrous nature of the high-class housing industry.
16 (See IFCO for details)
High Rise is released 18th March 2016