‘High-Rise’, directed by Ben Wheatley in 2015, is an adaptation of a J. G. Ballard novel by a director known for his eclectic range and his distinctive style. It’s the story of Robert Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston, a psychiatrist in a version of the 1970s who moves into an apartment in a high-tech residential tower-block. Over the course of a few months, the social order of the block begins to break down and the rooms and corridors become home to an orgy of violence, taboo breaking and sex, and Laing is absorbed into it all. Wheatley and his wife Amy Lang, the screenwriter, are the complete package. The trippy visuals and retro seventies styling provide the perfect backdrop for the decay and fragmentation of the social structures. It doesn’t slavishly follow the novel, but surgically identifies the key themes and expresses them with an outstanding cultural awareness. The number and depth of references in this movie are mind-boggling: from Pink Floyd to ‘Apocalypse Now’, but what struck me, perhaps because of the coincidence of only having seen it two days before, was how the movie extends and riffs on the style and subtexts of Luis Buñuel’s ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’. ‘High-Rise’ has the same sense of the absurdity of the social system, and the same grotesque and visceral approach to imagery that Buñuel exhibited. The difference is that Buñuel set his movie in the then contemporary world. By depicting a skewed version of the 1970s, and by playing on the tones and imagery of that time, Wheatley’s film extends the dreamscape beyond the setting and seems to tap into the area of hauntology. His ‘Fight Club’-like attention to the details and minutiae of the sets and set-dressing provide a simultaneous nostalgia for the innocence of the pre-Thatcher 1970s, but also a profound commentary on the vacuity of what was then considered to be the Utopian future of social and physical order and of greater leisure time.
Would I recommend it? Yes – if you were feeling brave in a trippy and intense double-bill with ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’.