Tag Archives: ben wheatley

High-Rise is a deliciously cynical elevator ride through hell

[This review was originally posted at Nerdly as part of my London Film Festival coverage.]

First we’re given a glimpse of the end: Tom Hiddleston’s neurosurgeon Robert Laing calmly sifting through the filth-strewn hallways of his tower block, encountering a dead man with a TV smashed over his head…and cooking a dog’s leg. This is director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump’s subtle way of telling us that this isn’t where we’re going as a society, despite High-Rise ostensibly being a period piece; it’s where we are right now, and we better get comfortable.

Discomfort is the main order of the day, though, as Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s dystopian novel about climbing the social ladder is given to mayhem from pretty early on without order. Upon moving into the titular tower block, the reserved but disciplined Dr. Laing is quickly introduced to the hierarchy of the building by Sienna Miller’s neighbour Charlotte: the obscenely wealthy live at the top, throwing decadent parties, riding horses and maintaining gardens; the middle classes are in the centre, their sizable apartments half-filled and hallways becoming venues for petty squabbles about rubbish disposal; and the poorer residents occupy the bottom, trying to scrape a living to support their children and afford service charges for power that is often switched off at a whim.

Initially wanting only to keep himself to himself, Laing quickly becomes entangled in the politics of his building. The two main ideologies at war are represented by Luke Evans’ philandering filmmaker, perpetually drunk and rowdy, and Jeremy Irons’ architect Royal, who built the blocks that now pepper the skyline and hopes they will act as a catalyst for change. The only problem is that, living on the roof of the building as he and his nostalgia-obsessed wife (Keeley Hawes as both peacock and caged bird) are, he’s oblivious as to what kind of change will actually happen.

After a number of ugly incidents mar the uneasy peace between the different levels, a full-on gang war breaks out between rich and poor (and eventually, when food grows scarce, between everyone), though Laing attempts to stay apart from the madness. Hiddleston plays him with a masterful restraint that steadily cracks to reveal both his distaste for the hedonistic upper classes and undeniable desire to be on top. Most other characters don’t try so hard to mask their feelings: Charlotte casually ends a sexual encounter with Hiddleston after he tells her he “thought we were doing this” by saying, “we’ve already done it”; Ann Royal calls Laing a dilettante to his face after he arrives at her powdered-wigs costume party in black tie. Though High-Rise offers obvious villains, its archetypes are completely intentional, the escalating debauchery (and, more shocking, acceptance) of everyone’s actions all serves to illustrate a black-tongued, comical critique of society and is all the more intoxicating for its directness.

All of this is filmed in claustrophobic close-ups by Wheatley & co., especially in the corridors where most of the anarchy takes place. Flats are havens for the characters like the elite, who relax in orgiastic ignorance while the distant angles and classical versions of pop songs (shout out to Abba’s SOS, which receives two hilariously subversive covers) serve to separate them from the reality beneath their feet.

But Laing’s home, too, is his sanctum santorum, one which he devotes a disturbing amount of time and energy to decorating. He’s trying to achieve material perfection, right down to the clothes he wears (and insists he must keep on, even after having sex with Elisabeth Moss’s heavily pregnant Helen), and by the end it could be argued that he’s achieved just that. One great success of Wheatley’s direction is to make Laing a compelling lead without becoming hero or villain – in a film where almost everyone commits ugly acts, the man who stands and waits for the dust to settle is both the smartest, coldest and dangerous person you could hope to meet.

High-Rise is out in UK cinemas today.

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Baby Got Back Issues

I covered the BFI London Film Festival last month, which I really should have been posting about as it was happening, but it would be disingenuous to suggest this blog has ever been anything but erratic at best. As ever, I intend to change that, but actually doing things has taken priority over writing about them recently. Which is how it should be, but self-improvement (i.e. relearning the blog discipline I once possessed) is ever the goal.

Anyway, all of my festival reviews are handily collected here, via Nerdly. I may post write-ups of some of my favourites on here, which included a rollicking trans prostitute screwball comedy and a tar-black satire about the perils of implementing social mobility.

Mickey O’Hagan and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in the blisteringly funny Tangerine (dir. Sean Baker)

The whole experience was thrilling and exhausting in equal measure, and though I’m grateful for the privilege of being able to attend LFF in a critical capacity, I was also working a full-time job at the same time and suffered something of a mental burnout by the festival’s end which I’m just now recovering from.

“Oh, the poor little boy watched too many films and now he needs a good lie down.” Well, yes. But in my defence, I did watch a lot of them.

Speaking of festivals I covered but forgot to mention on here, August 2015 saw me attend my first Frightfest! Only a weekend long and situated in Leicester Square (as opposed to traipsing up and down the West End and rocketing across the Thames between screens), the Film4-run horror festival was ironically a much more relaxed experience than LFF, due in part to being attended by friends new and old, not to mention the myriad delightful genre fans the weekend brings out of the woodwork. Can’t wait for next year. You can read my reviews of Over Your Dead Body (the first of two Takashi Miike films I’ve reviewed at London film festivals in 2015, funnily enough), JeruzalemScherzo DiabolicoAwaiting and the bafflingly enthralling Aaaaaaaaah!, which was probably my standout film of the weekend.

I also saw the very silly ’80s nostalgia-fest Turbo Kid and took the opportunity to recreate one of the film’s many Mad Max-on-a-BMX scenes, as evidenced by this bitchin’ pic:

“@jackkirby: Da original #TurboKid @arkmallen “

The owner of that tweet (but can you really own a tweet, man?) is none other than Jack Kirby, writer of the all-ages extraterrestrial sports comic Alien In The Outfield. The long-awaited third issue is due to be launched at this weekend’s Thought Bubble Festival by Jack and artist Mat Barnett – talented fellas and good friends both. I’ll also be there covering the con for Nerdly in…some capacity or another. It will involve some combination of words and pictures. (I’m nothing if not a forward planner.) It will probably be dissimilar to my previous coverage of Thought Bubble in 2013, which was a rambling series of panel summaries and awkward encounters with comics professionals.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to be granted a sneak preview of issue #3 (read: handed a proof copy when they came in as we all work in the same office) and I am happy to announce that it’s Barnett & Kirby’s best work yet. Humour, sweetness, romance and cliffhangers abound! If that sounds like your bag, you can find the book (and the first two issues if you don’t already have them) and its creators at table 53 in the Royal Armouries Hall or, if you can’t make it, buy it online for whatever price you like! Here’s the wonderfully evocative cover for the third issue by the marvelous Meryl Trussler:

Jack recently wrote a blog post on the development of issue #3 and some exciting plans he and Mat have for the future. If you have any interest in the creative process and the struggles of self-publishing comics, it’s definitely worth a read.

I have more things to share, but that’s probably enough for now. Watch @arkmallen for con updates (which will largely consist of amazing cosplay, I’m sure) and, um, keep watching the skies.

Thanks for reading!

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