|Tom Hiddleston in HIGH-RISE.|
I was very much looking forward to Ben Wheatley's film - it premiered yesterday on iTunes, Amazon Video and other streaming outlets before its US theatrical premiere in mid May - which I found disappointing for an entirely different set of reasons. Unlike the novel, it contains a lot of dialogue (some of it funny, as when one character rules "This is my party, these are my guests, and I will decide who is to be lobotomized!" - but mostly not) and introduced a plethora of characters, vignettes and situations not in the novel besides. While superbly well cast (Tom Hiddleston as Laing, Jeremy Irons as the architect Anthony Royal, Luke Evans as Wilder, also Elisabeth Moss and Sienna Miller), it's too freely adapted by Amy Jump, whose interpretation is immersive and Dionysian rather than remote and obsessed as Ballard is in his storytelling, not sharing his interest in the slow and systematic breakdown of human psychologies divorced from nature and imprisoned in the most abstract extremes of luxury.
At no time does the material remind us, as Ballard does, how our interactions with the rest of the world decide how presentably we live from day to day, how easily our standards of living can deteriorate if we have only to please ourselves - into not making the bed, not changing our clothes for days or weeks at a time, and the psychological cost that comes with such self-neglect. (Writers and other business people working from home, as Ballard did, will hear me.) Even the needle drops of the music score, pulling "Spoon" from CAN's EGE BAMYASI and commissioning a post-traumatic re-recording of ABBA's "S.O.S." by Portishead, evoke a scramble for hipster cred rather than a serious attempt to venture where Ballard had gone, which would have called for something closer far less counter-cultural and much more akin to 1970s supermarket Muzak.
THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is in many ways the better and more faithful adaptation, though it was conceived at least a dozen years before the novel was written. The Ballard film to beat remains Jonathan Weiss's uncompromising THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION (2000).