J.G. Ballard’s dystopic novel High-Rise comes to life on screen in this “wonderfully dark and disturbingly funny” turn from director Ben Wheatley and lead Tom Hiddleston.
The always controversial works of novelist J.G. Ballard (1930 – 2009) are a tough call to turn into movies, although David Cronenberg made a very strong and confronting fist of filming Ballard’s sexy-car-accident tale Crash back in 1996. Cronenberg also dearly wanted to film Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise for many years (as did other directors including Nicolas Roeg and Vincenzo Natali), but it finally got off the ground with Essex-born filmmaker Ben Wheatley at the helm and his wife Amy Jump adapting the script, and the results are exactly as confronting as they should be. Somewhere in the 1970s we meet Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), who lives on the 25th floor of a 40-storey modern high-rise on the outskirts of London that’s descended into dangerous chaos, and we cut back three months to see how such a thing could happen. It seems that Laing moved into the building after the death of his sister and uneasily befriended some of the locals, including single Mum Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), her cluey son Toby (Louis Suc), and, further down, the less-well-off Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men, of course). Already a class structure is forming, with poorer residents in the lower floors experiencing power cuts and rubbish build-ups, and the moneyed types up top living in extravagant luxury, as Laing realises when he visits the architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons – who else?), who has a virtual fantasy realm on the 40th floor. Royal calmly insists that the increasing problems the high-rise are experiencing are the growing pains of this social experiment, but soon characters are being thrown off balconies and debauched parties, bloody murder and dog-eating are commonplace. Purists are naturally unhappy with some of the minor liberties that have been taken with Ballard’s novel here, and yet even in a slightly altered form this is still wonderfully dark and disturbingly funny, with an evocative period look, fine work from Hiddleston, Irons and a few Wheatley faves, and an eventual mood of authentic, almost celebratory madness. All of you out there stuck living in cramped apartments should adore it – but please, don’t go getting any ideas. High-Rise is playing in Australian cinemas now. Rated MA.