Yes, yes, it’s an adaptation of JG Ballard’s previously unfilmable 1975 novel, the film that nobody’s been able to make – til now.
Ben Wheatley, fast becoming the darling of the film geek set, has much going for him. I like him -though he doesn’t like film critics much. He should do, as they’ve elevated him to some kind of status. What’s he’s feeling now is the first backlash, mainly because his first big film with big stars is a mess. A glorious, ambitious, mad mess, but a right mess for sure.
High-Rise** is the kind of film that starts at the top of the blackboard and slowly draws its fingernails across and down in slow, screeching, deliberately cruel patterns.
Tom Hiddleston plays Robert Laing, who moves into the new tower block and just wants a quiet, secret life – he should have applied for the Night Manager post, no? But he’s drawn into the society of this town in the sky, the gradations of class and status, the parties, the sex, the top-down decadence. He becomes a bridge between the layers, a conduit between the oppressed lower floors and the debauched upper echelons, all the way up to the architect, played by Jeremy Irons, who canters about the penthouse gardens on a white stallion.
That’s when he’s not throwing parties in the Louis XV style, all wigs and beauty spots and string quartets playing ABBA’s SOS.
Some of this is spectacular, funny, crazy. But some of it quickly becomes frenzied and flailing. We’re as lost as our hero, but at least he’s Tom Hiddleston and has read the script, so he’s got a vague idea where it’s headed.
We are just poor audience members at the mercy of Wheatley’s whims. Now, many people like this cinematic wildness, this teasing. I found it out of control and grating. I wanted it to stop, I wanted to, like many in the film, throw myself off the nearest balcony and on to some classic 70s car relic parked below, a Triumph Stag or a Rover.
Look – I have to be honest: so many people love this film and it’s cool poster and PR campaign are working well to position it as the hip, cult choice. They think Wheatley’s a genius on a par with Nic Roeg or at least Danny Boyle. He’s got an eye, for sure, and an ear. But he can lose the plot and I think that somewhere, like EM Forster says of the novel, yes ah yes, a movie tells a story.
I think this one got away from him. I don’t think he marshalled all the elements you see on that kaleidoscope poster. It’s an admirable, irritating failure. I emerged angry, suffocated, beaten. Just how Wheatley – and Ballard – wanted me to be. You’ll have to decide if that’s the kind of thing you like.