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High Rise

Year: 2015
Production Co: HanWay Films
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump/JG Ballard
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, Keeley Hawes

Try as I might, I just can't get into Ben Wheatley's films. I can appreciate the command over aesthetic and milieu he wields, but he's one of those directors who's apparently much more interested in either the buried parables his films refer to or just the moods they evoke. If you're after a cracking story well told, steer clear.

It's based on one of JG Ballard's novels, and I'd be interested to read an essay of what Ballard envisioned as his own themes (nothing on screen has made me interested enough to want to read it), and whether the ones Wheatley and his usual writer Amy Jump adhere to it much.

To fully grasp it, you'd probably have to watch it half a dozen times and cross reference it with so much other literature and mythologies it'd become a thesis, but nothing in the film is interesting enough to prompt further viewings.

The most obvious subtext is the crumbling of society. We meet the hero, Laing (Tim Hiddleston) sitting furtively amid the wreckage-strewn halls of a brutalist apartment building, rambling and ruminating about what's gone wrong. In short order we're sent there as he moves into the apartment some period beforehand.

It's all stark mod cons with a slightly sixties air (one of Wheatley's undeniable strengths is in designing a world that seems to be today but looks and feel like some kind of proto-post war consumer bonanza), as are his neighbours. One is blowsy, boozy layabout Charlotte (Sienna Miller) from upstairs who already seems to have designs on the svelte young man. Another is Wilder (Luke Evans), a terminally angry white male with revolutionary ideas about the hierarchy of residents in the pecking order of the tower.

The character of Wilder, and the revolution he foments in sequences like taking a gaggle of kids to the indoor pool to crash a genteel gathering of the elites, makes you think it's all a metaphor for class, the vertical strata of the apartment tower the same thing as the horizontal divides in Snowpiercer.

And, somewhat inevitably, it's about the crumbling of that polite society as the world around them collapses. Locked in as they are with everything they need from the pool and gym to a supermarket selling generic brand goods, the residents start to forget the outside world exists, prompting a kind of Lord of the Flies vibe of shifting alliances among adversaries.

The constant references to maintenance issues might be a metaphor for climate change and how it will impinge on all of us, rich and poor alike. Laing is also whisked to the rooftop level where the designer of the complex, Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives in a kind of garden paradise and takes Laing under his wing, and that feels to all intents and purposes like an ascent to heaven to meet a pre-Noah's Ark God who's unhappy with his creation and intends to destroy it all and start again.

But in the end, so many people do so many weird things that seem not just out of character for who the script has established they are, but whose actions form a morass that will only confuse you, it all just comes to nothing.

There are some well designed and executed shots of the buildings thrusting starkly into the sky and the light cityscape around them that remind you of great sci-fi, but none of that will give you any more idea what the hell Wheatley's on about. Class? Mental health? Discrimination? The idle rich? It could be anything, and by the time you get to the end you won't care.

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