Year – 2015
Country – U.K.
Length– 119 mins
Production company –Recorded Picture Company, Film4, British Film Institute, HanWay Films. Northern Ireland Screen, Ingenious Media
Director – Ben Wheatley
Staring – Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, and Elisabeth Moss
It’s no surprise that Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of High Rise has between long awaited by sci-fi fans. The movie adaptation of the author’s more famous Crash was, if not a critical success then at a least talking point due to its controversy. This take on Ballard’s 1975 work, released September last year, received mixed reviews from the press, but as someone who was greatly taken in by the whole aesthetics and mood of the original book, I struggled to see why.
The whole two-hour dystopian epic is a loyal adaptation plot-wise, and although leading man Tom Hiddleston as Robert Laing adds a little to much suave and slick Bond like charm to the role, there is a Patrick Bateman-esque balance between his metro-sexuality and brooding aura of psychopathy as we see him carry out his doctor’s work and get his hands around a slippery human brain.
From the Clockwork Orange inspired release poster through to the horrible wallpaper and sex fueled parties- this film is seventies through and through – capturing the mood of the period through a much more stereotyped Instamatic lens than the book, which feels futuristic even to read now. However, any modernised adaptations could have been risky- and the concrete ballast of the High Rise building is the vital spine which connects the foundation of J.G. Ballard’s work to this adaptation in a way which will keep any die-hard fans at ease.
Despite its Universal certificate, nothing is held back here. In fact the themes of sex and death which are more subtlety explored in the novel are exaggerated and augmented in this movie- even glorified. Shots of elaborate penthouses feel decadent, while Hiddleston’s fan girls have plenty to look forward to when it comes to him taking his shirt off.
The plot of this film follows no action-packed roller coaster motion. Instead, it’s like being in a lift that breaks down. It’s a gradual, slightly scary and racy descent into a place that no-one can predict. However, with few pivotal plot turns to cling onto, the film has to heavy rely on the atmosphere to remain entertaining, and although the plot fails to stay engaging, High Rise’s iconic brutalist atmosphere carries the 119 minutes through.
For this reason, unless the animalistic sides of the dark human psyche or the psychological risks associated with post war architecture intrigue you- this might not be a film for you, although the same can be said of the Ballard’s original book. However, this flick definitely has art-film appeal, and Ben Wheatley has done a near perfect job by tapping into the recent 70s retro comeback whilst conveying all of the most graphically morbid elements that the novel suggested. Some critics felt that this adaptation didn’t live up to the source material- whereas I feel it did more than a worthy job of taking an unconventional forty year old book, and reproducing it is as a stylish and relevant modern movie.