Based on JG Ballard’s bleak sci-fi novel of the same name, the British production High-Rise is the long-awaited effort that finally sees the writer’s complex narrative reach the visual realm. The adaptation process was first attempted 40 years ago, shortly after the book’s release, but the task was deemed too complex and the project was abandoned. It was thenceforth considered “un-filmable” and very few have ventured to take on the challenge since.
With this knowledge in mind, director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump, who have created a fast-paced, highly fragmented work, are to be commended for the effort alone. Wheatley is known for his inventive style and for exhibiting little inhibition in his directorial ventures. High-Rise may seem excessively rough for some, but the dizzying mix of violence and surrealism will come as no surprise to the director’s fans.
The central character, Dr Laing (Tom Hiddleston), moves into an isolated apartment block whose inhabitants form a separate, independent community. Every amenity, from gym to supermarket, is situated within the complex, and the residents are housed on the floor that best matches their social ranking: the higher their status, the higher the floor they occupy. The segregating arrangement inevitably causes friction between factions and a number of disturbing events shake up the system entirely, leading to a survival-of-the-fittest scenario that sees the tenants descend into savagery.
The fascinating fact in regards to the adaptation is that rather than taking the story into a distant future, the dystopian setting depicted refers to a time in the past: namely, Thatcher’s 1970s London. The film is exceptional in the way it brings to life a world that is both mesmerising and repelling. The bold, arresting aesthetics maintain the appeal even when the momentum slows down and the plot loses itself in the debauchery of its characters.
The film’s brilliance lies in its merging of the familiar with the absurd. Wheatley has made the story his own and his depiction of social chaos is almost comical in its ludicrousness. The satirical touch does work, however, even if it does give Ballard’s critique a different flavour.
The adaptation is likely to gather mixed views, partly due to fans’ expectations but also owing to the imbalance between the overstimulating visuals and the seemingly waning plot-line. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to be intrigued by High-Rise – a creative feast offering a lot to be admired, and even more to be pondered.
High-Rise is released nationwide on 18th March 2016.
Read our conversation with director Ben Wheatly here.
Watch the trailer for High-Rise here:
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