Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. United Kingdom/Belgium, 2015. HanWay Films, Film4, British Film Institute, Recorded Picture Company, Northern Ireland Screen, Ingenious Media, Scope Pictures, S Films, Backwell Productions. Screenplay by Amy Jump, based on the novel by J.G. Ballard. Cinematography by Laurie Rose. Produced by Jeremy Thomas. Music by Clint Mansell. Production Design by Mark Tildesley. Costume Design by Odile Dicks-Mireaux. Film Editing by Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley. Toronto International Film Festival 2015.
Tom Hiddleston is a successful physiologist who has just moved into an ultra-modern apartment complex that is a world unto itself, everything you could possibly need included in one building (right down to an in-house supermarket). He meets his sexy upstairs neighbor (Sienna Miller, who finally manages to be memorable), befriends the scrappy, philandering married man from the lower levels (Luke Evans) and his pregnant wife (Elisabeth Moss) and is introduced to the architect (Jeremy Irons) who lives at the top in what looks like practically his own ecosystem with his beautiful, soulless wife (Keeley Hawes). When power sources begin to fail and the residents from the lower ranks begin to complain, it immediately (and with thankfully little explanation) turns the high rise into a war zone where trash piles up everywhere, property is destroyed and people are living around makeshift fireplaces in the living rooms and scavenging for food and goods. The painfully unsubtle allegory is applied to energetic direction and delicious visual hot-dogging (set amidst some marvelous seventies sets and costumes) in this thoroughly enjoyable, often grotesque film by Ben Wheatley adapted from the novel by J.G. Ballard. Characterizations and situations are as rich as the aesthetic pleasures except when focusing on the conspiratorial upper level members, whose cardboard personalities and simplistic dialogue fails (or, more to the point, fails at boldly announcing itself as cardboard and simplistic). Hiddleston’s porcelain-perfect looks are a beautiful calm at the centre of a human storm, his perpetually confident delivery a great hub from which the madness of the supporting characters can splinter off. It’s a film that defies too much explanation, and at times is exasperating, but its greatest audacities are easy to stomach because, unlike the pompous Snowpiercer or the perennially overrated Brazil, this one remains lighthearted and funny even in its darkest moments, never taking itself too seriously even when relating the worst horrors of desperate human behavior. The film adaptation has been in the works since Jeremy Thomas bought the rights in 1975, intending it as a project for Nicolas Roeg, but the result was well worth the wait.