In 1975 Cronenberg directed the movie Shivers. It was about a high rise apartment building where the tenants end up going mad and turning into sex crazed beings. At relatively the exact same time, the J.G. Ballard book High-Rise was released. The two shared many similar themes, and while one could claim someone ripped someone off, they were both created around the same time in two different parts of the world.
While Cronenberg actually released a movie with these themes in 1975, for much of the time since the book was written people have called it impossible to turn into a movie, which of course is nonsense, it is just one of those movies where you know this is not going to appeal to a wide audience. David Cronenberg had the exact same problem when he directed a movie based on J.G. Ballard's Crash, a movie about people being turned on by car accidents. Of course Crash the movie (not to be mistaken for the Hollywood movie Crash having nothing to do with this version) was either a masterpiece or a complete piece of crap, depending on who you speak to. Personally, I think Crash is an amazing movie, showing you how far you can go with a movie based on a book people call unfilmable.
High-Rise has some equally challenging problems, as it is part comedy part social commentary, part horror show, though not much more of a horror show than real life is. The story takes place mostly at a newly constructed (and continually being constructed) apartment building that is a modern take on the perfect village. The whole building is supposed to be very sleek, modern, efficient, and wonderful for everyone who lives there. Of course, that may all depend on which floor you live on as well, as the richer more well off people live much higher up than the poorer less well off people. As such, the higher floors get better service, more attention, nice fixtures, and sometimes electricity has to be diverted from the lower floors to make sure the higher floors have enough, leaving the lower floors feeling somewhat unhappy.
The book and movie are set in the mid 1970s, and the detail in the movie is pretty damned wonderful. The clothing is great, the way people interact with each other, the jobs they do, all of it reflects the times they are in. As things start to slowly fall apart, a kind of Lord Of The Flies anarchy sets in, and groups form, alliances are broken and reformed, and battles are fought.
While much of the movie has a very dark comic tone, there is also some drama, a fair amount of sex, and some very odd scenes. Having not read the book, I cannot tell you whether or not they were just following the basic plot, or if having to leave out huge chunks due to the length of a book versus a movie contributed to the problem. There are good performances in the movie, including Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons, and this was directed by Ben Wheatley, who also directed the very odd dark and twisted romantic comedy Sightseers that I caught a few years back.
Although I am positive this movie is not for everyone, or even most people, it is a very interesting and beautiful film, even when it is showing chaos and anarchy. I feel like David Cronenberg in his prime would have directed a much better version of this, but that will never be. I can't imagine anyone else taking this tale on, so this is what we have. I wanted more, much more, but what I got wasn't terrible, just a bit unsatisfying.
7 out of 10 stars.