Cert: 15 / 119 mins / Dir. Ben Wheatley / Trailer
Well, it's certainly turning out to be a week for it. Only a day earlier my eyebrow had been raised by how top-end a 12A film 10 Cloverfield Lane is, and this was followed by one of the hardest 15 Certificated movies in recent memory. Ben Wheatley's adaptation of JG Ballard's High-Rise is not for the psychologically squeamish.
Truth be told (and without wanting to sound snobbish, I promise you), High-Rise will be 'not for' quite a wide swathe of mainstream audiences, I think (although I've also got to add that the film's more provocative moments are also the least necessary to the film). The story itself, about a barely completed tower block with social divisions across its many floors descending into tribal chaos, is relatively straightforward as allegories go, but its telling is more challenging. Which is where director Wheatley comes in. With each film in his catalogue, he toys with his audience in a slightly different way, and the more I see, the more I admire him as a film-maker. I don't necessarily enjoy all of his work, but I respect the fuck out of it.
By making the tableau decidedly unreal in the first place, the film's audience are already detached bystanders by the time everything in the tower-block goes monumentally downhill. Although Tom Hiddleston's Laing is initially an outsider to the world, we're still not 'on his side' (at least that's what we tell ourselves) as his own behaviour becomes no less extreme than his fellow residents, even if he considers his own standing to be markedly different.
Ballard's setting of the tower-block (which we rarely, but occasionally, step outside of) is like being trapped in a lift with The League of Gentlemen and Scarfolk, except that they're too close for you to feel comfortable laughing at. Or making eye-contact with. Crucially, Wheatley understands the surreal landscape, and so do his cast, minimising the amount of leg-work required between them to bring the vision to the screen. There are no real standout performances*1, but that's largely because the cast aren't competing for attention here (even if the characters are).
Audibly, the film is just as disquieting as the visuals, and includes the most emotionally-distressing use of Abba in a soundtrack since Mamma Mia. Massive props also go to cinematographer Laurie Rose, not least for filming repeatedly in an elevator full of mirrors without showing the camera to the audience. I know that's part of the job, but still.
I definitely enjoyed High-Rise, and I even think I know what some of it was about. Just don't ask me to explain it in any detail.
Part metaphor, part lesson, part cheese-dream, in all likelihood.
The film left me intrigued, but not really affected in any emotional sense.
Although I suspect that could well be intentional.
More viewings required…
The cinema will make this movie all the more surreal, and all the more uncomfortable being surrounded by strangers while you watch it. So yes.
…I think so?
It's up there, certainly.
Level 2: The film features Julia Deakin and Tony Way, both of whom were in the sitcom Spaced, starring Simon Voice of Dengar / Unkar Plutt / Semi-Pro Star Wars Hater Pegg.
*1 That said, this could be Luke ('Dracula Untold' / 'FF6') Evans' first prominent performance where I didn't want to see him taken outside and flogged with his Equity card. Turns out he can act, he just chooses mostly not to. #meeow
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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