Sunday, 20 March 2016

L.J. SPENCE ACTUALLY REVIEWS A FILM: HIGH-RISE

L.J. SPENCE ACTUALLY REVIEWS A FILM

4. HIGH-RISE (2015, dir. Ben Wheatley)

20/03/2016


I will start by saying there are spoilers in this review - I don't much care at this point because, after seeing "High-Rise" yesterday morning, I just want the film out of my head.

People have already picked up how accurately this film gets its time period right. Taking J.G. Ballard's novel, published in 1975, but set in "the future," husband-and-wife team of director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump (also co-editors of the film) wisely chose to keep the setting at when it was written, to comment on both past and future. As much as the problems of high-rise living today are deplored, with "poor door" entrances in some tower blocks for residents of the cheaper apartments, the themes stem directly from the idealism of post-war Britain, modern Brutalist architecture, and the socio-economic decline of Britain in the 1970s - why shoehorn your story into the present day, when it works perfectly well where it is?

The smoke and alcohol fumes of 1970s Britain is itself another world, one that the tower block, one finger in the hand of blocks created by Jeremy Irons' architect, Royal, would scoop up and, well, save from themselves. A mini-society is prepared for them, with supermarket, gym, swimming pool and school all contained within a air-conditioned cocoon - having said that, I did find, in the glimpses into the background landscape, how life carries on as normal.

Tom Hiddleston, as the charismatic physiologist Laing, both perfect human specimen and deft remover of brains from donated bodies, as we are shown a few times, moves into the centre of the block, between Sienna Miller's sophisticated keeper of secrets, and Luke Evans' radical (read: leftie) documentary filmmaker and family. Dan Skinner - he of Reeves & Mortimer's "House of Fools," you twat - plays a heavy that ushers Laing between the township and the gated kingdom at the top, complete with garden, horse, Marie Antoinette-style parties, and its own drawbridge, I mean lift.

Laing is the pragmatic one, the middle ground - when problems with electricity and servicing occur, it is he, echoing Royal, who puts it down to the building still "bedding in." Everyone pays the same service costs, so more is at stake for the lower floors. When the pool is closed for a private function, in a scene quite like the lower deck passengers coming up against a gate in "Titanic," the storming of the pool creates a culture clash from where things begin to spiral.

I like the first half of this film - everything is refined, idealised, period detail is exquisite, and when problems appear, you are optimistic that it can be sorted out.

However, a short montage of problems building up, neglect setting in, conditions turning to squalor, and the building's residents becoming almost feral - witness Laing beat someone half to death in the supermarket to get a pot of paint - leads into something I did not expect at all. I knew the novel proceeds gradually into deprivation, and even cannibalism, which the film does not do here, but to see a society collapse into hell like this has probably not been seen outside of a post-apocalyptic horror like the BBC play "Threads." 

My mind reeled - why has this been allowed to happen? Why are people willing to live like this? What has happened to their minds to think this is OK? WHY DON'T THEY JUST LEAVE?

I don't feel that I have got these answers, but I don't know if the novel had them either, and any answers may have gotten in the way of spectacle. I am skipping a lot of what I saw, but there had to be a reason for its inclusion, apart from making you feel sick. In real-life 1970s Britain, David Stirling, the retired founder of the SAS, formed a private militia in anticipation of law and order collapsing the strike-ridden country - yes, life in the country in which you live was once thought to be that bad. There is a very real sense of the end of history in "High-Rise," and it is fucking unpleasant. In fact, I think it went on too long.

Once the high-rise society purges itself of the bottom, and the top, life carries on, but it is not back to normal, and I can't think why. We know life outside carries on as if nothing had happened - a police car even turned up at the entrance, but the officers are convinced there are no problems, and carry on their way. Laing writes about his experiences, spit-roasts his dog leg for dinner - by the way, do not see this film if you like dogs, or horses - and talks of how the building is speaking to him.

I just don't understand, and I guess that is for the best. What is worse, the time between Laing moving in, and where the film ends, is THREE FUCKING MONTHS!!! I am so glad I don't understand.

Well, for what it is, "High-Rise" is fascinating, if you can manage to get through the second half. Once you have finished, I recommend you read Dominic Sandbrook's two histories of 1970s Britain, "State of Emergency," and "Seasons in the Sun," listen to David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs" album a few times, and be happy that society turned out a lot better than you thought.



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