Film review: High Rise

Sienna Miller in High Rise. PA Photo/Studio Canal.
Sienna Miller in High Rise. PA Photo/Studio Canal.
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Some authors so befuddle cinemagoers and filmmakers that they sit outside the mainstream, just at their books divide readers.

J G Ballard is such a writer. Thus his novels – not counting Empire of the Sun – have scared away directors for years. Now Ben Wheatley has followed David (Crash) Cronenberg by lensing what could be the purest version of a Ballard book to yet hit the screen: High-Rise.

Tom Hiddleston is the doctor seeking isolation and anonymity in a swanky new tower block in 1970s Britain. “Like an unconscious diagram of some psychic event,” he calls it.But as he and we are introduced to fellow residents and the crippled architect who designed it, so the building begins to exercise a terrible effect.

This is not so much about communal living as a Lord of the Flies-style deterioration: open warfare between the haves and the have-nots. High-Rise depicts an internalised world of perpetual parties, power outages and sex while the world outside barely seems to exist.

Wheatley, screenwriter Amy Jump and a cast that includes Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller and James Purefoy alongside Hiddleston have together delivered a daring and deliciously off-kilter drama of dystopia.

This is filmmaking that powerfully channels the source material and does so viscerally and proudly. Flash forward 40 years and the allegorical aspects – anarchy in the UK, dog-eat-dog and the survival of the fittest – are driven home with a sledgehammer. For ‘70s Britain read 21st century Britain. Wheatley and Jump don’t pull their punches.

Magnificent stuff.