Country: UK, Belgium
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump
based on the novel of J.G. Ballard
Music: Clint Mansell
Cinematography: Laurie Rose
Dan Renton Skinner
It took exactly 40 years to actualize the screen transposition of J.G. Ballard’s dystopian novel HIGH-RISE, which is published in 1975. UK maverick Ben Wheatley takes on the project, his fifth feature, with verve and brio on the face of that the story itself is more often than not, deemed unfilmable.
An ideological fable corralling a mishmash of characters inside an august tower block, with its occupants easily compartmented into a social and ritual hierarchy commensurate with the altitude of their stories. On its top 40th floor, resides the architect of the building Anthony Royal (Irons) and his wife Ann (Hawes), approached only through an exclusive elevator and surrounded by a luxuriant rooftop garden, occasionally Ann will throw a lavish 18-century French costume party out of caprice, which our protagonist, Dr. Robert Laing (Hiddleston) is invited but his suited formality is bitingly derided by the hostess and company.
Laine is a new tenant who occupies a room in the 25th floor, which denotes his status as a bridge between the upper and lower floors, indeed, he befriends an idle documentary maker Richard Wilder (Evans) and his preggy wife Helen (Moss, sports a British accent) who lives below and catches the attention of Charlotte (Miller), a voluptuous single-mother who lives just above him, before they take a roll in the hay, also he is the one who is invited by Mr. Royal himself to glance the view of the top, whereas for Wilder and his ilk, they don’t even have a clue about what the architect looks like.
Told from flashback, within three months, everything would descend into sheer anarchy, that’s what unrelievedly entrains in a fictive dystopia, due to class stratification and its trimmings: uneven allocation of resources, miscarried privilege, ennui and debauchery. In a starkly impressive visual tack, Wheatley unleashes his faculties to maximally depict the ongoing strife, encounters and their ramifications with slickness (a music video feel of poshness, especially topped off by Portishead’s cover of ABBA’s S.O.S.) and confidence (slo-motions, pulsating tableaux and revealing compositions galore). But on a lesser note, the narrative never truly gels which renders the vociferous actions bluntly improbable and incoherent. It is just a matter of time for viewers to lose one’s investment in its heterogeneous characters, carrying off their tussles, assassinations, dry-humpings and petulant decisions to a hyper-stylized genre pastiche which we have already seen, for example in Boon Jooh-ho’s SNOWPIERCER (2013), with much more gusto and thrill.
A can-do ensemble cast shouldn’t be accountable for the film’s own textual disarray as most of them are hobbled by the flimsy material at their disposal: Hiddleston is exploited as a jolly-good specimen, inhabits himself to Laine’s suit fetish, gratuitous nudity and simulated romp with the same commitment; Sienna Miller, as gallant as she is, is given the short hand of a misogynous male-gaze, at one point she is mentioned by the tightness of her genitals, always a fair game to blame along other petticoat cohorts; but it is Luke Evans, upstages everyone else in his greasy wig and blood-tainted slap, gets off on Richard’s insurrectionary vibe and having a field day.
When the coda finally reveals the story takes place in Thatcher’s era, its ripple effects can be wholeheartedly related to today’s political weather, since it is always the same-old transgression stemming from the capitalistic structure, but tackling with an influential but un-cinematic fiction, one needs a much more tectonic re-imagination and re-structuring of its source material before indulging it with all the glitters, sometimes, one must jilt high fidelity to achieve some extraordinary, but HIGH-RISE obviously is not the case here.