Laura Conlon, Contributor
High-Rise is going to divide people. Not simply the two camps of those who’ve read it and those who’ve yet to (as it’s essential reading and I implore you to find a copy). It all seems to be regarding the plot, or rather the lack thereof. Now this will be controversial for a lot of people. ‘A film? With no discernible plot? What am I paying for then? Two hours of pretty moving images?’ Well yes. Though it isn’t daylight robbery, as it may seem.
With the novel, Ballard provides us with microcosmic character studies of a city stacked vertically. In a place where social status correlates with floor number, we watch the inhabitant’s stories across storeys. There are masterfully orchestrated character interactions and once the high-rise’s controlled exterior begins to falter, its tenants follow suit. And it’s this apparent spontaneity of the high-rise’s demise that people will struggle with – in the book, film, or even the trailer which has the same pacing. Afterwards the viewer joins Laing, the nearest thing we have to an anti-hero, in thinking back to the plot’s point-of-no-return. There isn’t one. Which is the whole point. It’s a high-rise in London. London! Of course the internal build up of frustrations and anger will kick off eventually. So is this a microcosm where the worst thing imaginable happens or is it the prophecy of what really would happen if people acted upon their every selfish impulse?
Ballard was, and remains to be, a prophetic writer with a similar cult fanbase to that which director Ben Wheatley and his associates (in particular screenwriter Amy Jump and DOP Laurie Rose) have gained over the last decade. So of course this film was going to be a match made in heaven, or at least some higher realm above the fortieth floor. The Wheatley-Jump-Rose trio give us some brilliantly subtle, and in one instance golden, comedic tones amidst the rest of the film. Wheatley has said that what we see is the director’s cut. And you can tell that he has spent months in the edit suite making the purest form of cinema, shaving off any prolonged beats to perfect timing, cradling an ensemble cast to kill for. Yes, it gets a bit long and sporadic in the dog-eat-dog (….) section but it’s a loyalty to the book and not an alteration for the sake of three-act-structure which bores every moviegoer to tears after 23 minutes. However we get a copy-paste of the trailer to bookend the film. Once again book loyalty, but it felt unnecessary for the film. Unless you care to think of it as a pre-roll advert of sorts. ‘This content is sponsored by Royal Architects.’
Life in the high-rise still manages to remain ethereal even through the moral decay. All thanks to Laurie Rose making every single shot into a standalone masterpiece, returning to my two-hours-of-pretty-moving-images point from earlier. This film is gorgeous. Even if you come to hate every single character, if you loathe the interpersonal relationships, if for some reason you totally oppose the soundtrack (which amplified the ‘sci-fi gone swish’ aesthetics with the best use of ABBA I’ve ever heard) at least try to take refuge in the dystopian-nostalgic 70s production design. The constant glamour manages to create elitism throughout. It’s an example of how film has once again managed to romanticise the garish by simply putting it on a big screen.
Whether you choose to indulge or oppose the high life however, we can all agree that a lowly Bangor leisure centre cleans up rather well. Northern Ireland Screen, represent.