High Rise (2015) Dir-Ben Wheatley
Confession…In the past, I have tried and failed to get through several JG Ballard novels including The Unlimited Dream Company and The Drowned World with Crash being my first and so far only successful attempt thus far, owing more to it’s connection with David Cronenberg’s controversial 1996 movie adaptation than any curiosity to consume Ballard’s unsettling, not quite science fiction visions.
Having shown little to no interest in Steven Spielberg’s 1987 film version of Ballard’s autobiographical Empire of the Sun at the time of it’s release – as it featured neither Indiana Jones nor aliens or any kind – my awareness of Ballard’s was raised by a good friend of mine who favoured more cerebral reading fare during our time in secondary school together.
I ‘bravely’ attempted to get through The Drowned World but soon put it aside until Cronenberg’s film version was announced, its disturbing premise of car crash sex fethishism in a modern concrete dystopia triggering reptilian and nihilistic chemical sensors in the dark, misty swamps of my proto adult, post adolescent brain; a sense of forbidden mystique surrounded both Cronenberg’s film and Ballard’s source novel.
But we are not here to talk about my past obsessions, rather to focus on a new film of one of Ballard’s most celebrated books, High Rise first published way back in 1975. The film is produced by the esteemed Jeremy Thomas (The Last Emperor, Crash, Bad Timing etc etc) and directed by English upstart Ben Wheatley, whose burnished reputation for challenging, low budget cult items has seen him emerge as a genuine and idiosyncratic film-making talent.
It has taken Thomas four decades to get a screen version of High Rise off the ground, coming closest in the late 1970’s when the great Nicolas Roeg was attached to direct and considering the dark singularity of Ballard’s writing and the outrage that surrounded Crash two decades back, it’s probably not surprising it has taken this long to get funding for a dystopian tale of societal collapse amongst the denizens of an ultra modern high rise building and the ultra-stylized, nightmarish, trailer bears this out; the 70’s reimagined as a surreal, hellish, fetishistic hellscape, an alternate future shock.
High Rise is released in the UK and Ireland on March 18th