(UK/Ireland/Belgium - 2016)
Directed by Ben Wheatley. Written by Amy Jump. Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Bill Paterson, Peter Ferdinando, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith, Stacy Martin, Augustus Prew, Tony Way, Enzo Cilenti, Dan Skinner, Louis Suc, Neil Maskell. (R, 119 mins)
Producer Jeremy Thomas has tried to put together an adaptation of J.G. Ballard's novel High-Rise since it was first published in 1975. Though regarded as unfilmable, it nearly came to be in the late '70s with director Nicolas Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg intending it to be their next film after 1976's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. That never happened, nor did any other attempt, and the closest anyone got prior to now was when CUBE director Vincenzo Natali nearly got the greenlight in the early 2000s. It took 40 years, but Thomas finally got HIGH-RISE made, with acclaimed British cult filmmaker Ben Wheatley at the helm, working from a script by his wife and writing partner Amy Jump. Wheatley has acquired a cult following with the overrated WICKER MAN knockoff KILL LIST, the dark comedy SIGHTSEERS, and the unnerving A FIELD IN ENGLAND, but HIGH-RISE is his most ambitious project yet, working with his biggest budget and largest, most prestigious ensemble cast yet.
SNOWPIERCER in a skyscraper, from the class struggle motif to Wilder's making his way to the top of the building, all the way to one character admonishing Laine to "know your place." Sure, in retrospect, it looks like SNOWPIERCER--and other movies--co-opted a lot of Ballard's ideas, and that's not the fault of the filmmakers here, but it doesn't do this belated adaptation any favors. It's also reminiscent of a somewhat less abrasive BLINDNESS, though Wheatley and Jump do keep the unpleasantness to a minimum, mostly implying it except for a few examples of shock value shots and dialogue (Royal to Laine, during a game of squash: "By the way, I hear you're fucking 374...she has a tight cunt as I recall"). Laine is the relative "everyman" audience surrogate, a successful career man who lives in the middle of the building and is comfortable screwing third-floor Charlotte and hobnobbing with penthouse Royal and other near-the-top residents, like sneering, asshole gynecologist Pangbourne (James Purefoy). Royal, the Trump of the high-rise if you want a present-day analogy, speaks of the building as both a living, breathing entity and as a symbol of society. It's all rather facile and obvious, though again, it could've been the angry FIGHT CLUB of its day had it been made 40 years ago. Whatever ham-fisted conclusions there are to draw from the events in HIGH-RISE have already been made decades ago. Wheatley scores some points for the film's retro-future look that ties in perfectly with Laine's observation that it "looks like a future that had already happened," and trippy, early '70s prog tunes by Amon Duul and Can, and a Portishead cover of ABBA's "S.O.S." provide a lot of atmosphere, but HIGH-RISE is repetitive, dated, and eventually oppressive. The filmmakers swing for the fences and get a few hits, but it goes on forever and you'll be ready for it to end long before it finally does.