Directed by Ben Wheatley
Out now on digital download, out on DVD/Blu-ray on July 25
Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J G Ballard’s Seventies novel might prove that books deemed as ‘unfilmable’ are actually best left alone. In a sea of generally positive reviews I feel like I’m the kid pointing out that the emperor has no clothes on, as it’s a dull, choppy, crushing bore of a movie.
On the face of it, the ingredients are here – Tom Hiddleston’s star is on the rise, Ben Wheatley is feted as a director to watch (Sightseers, A Field in England), and the source material from J.G.(Crash) Ballard using the concept of the floors of a tower block representing the strata of society is an intriguing one. The higher up you are, the greater your standing, with a suitable bonkers Jeremy Irons occupying the penthouse as the building’s architect/overseer.
The design of the structure is a great example of Seventies brutalist pre-cast concrete, and as Tom Hiddleston’s architect moves in to his upper middle class apartment it’s pretty clear that this is no ordinary environment. And so we meet the poor families, consigned to the lower levels and then the upper class twits with their costume parties, the social climbers who are literally climbing their way to to the top. So far so good, but the real narrative is absent, and while Wheatley is great at creating a series of arresting visuals they serve as stand-alone vignettes, clips from a bigger and more complete story. Characters are suddenly In relationships with people and you wonder what happened to the foreplay. Why is that person suddenly behaving like that – what did I miss?
Before you know it, society has collapsed inside the tower. There’s an internal civil war, orgies are happening, dog legs are being rotisseried. This all sounds really shocking, and so it should be, but it’s all so matter-of-fact and casual that you barely blink. There’s no tension, the descent has happened before you know it and our hero is just a benign observer. With no-one to care about – there’s no resonance or empathy – it’s just bad things happening to people we have no attachment to. Oh, and did I mention that it’s dull?
My biggest cinematic disappointment in a long time. Imagine the worst excesses of a Lindsay Anderson film, throw in a bit of Z-grade Ken Russell and the most pretentious Peter Greenaway and you’re in the lobby, getting ready to make your ascent. The saving graces? The score by Clint Mansell adds a sheen of class, the Portishead version of SOS is the soundtrack to the film I wanted to see, and and the already-mentioned design of the eponymous building itself is a triumph.
Verdict: A brutalistic and brutal construction, this Seventies throwback will not be getting another visit from me. When this movie was announced two years ago I couldn’t wait to see what promised to be a genre classic. Sadly, that’s another storey. 2/10
The home entertainment version includes a very informative commentary from Wheatley, Hiddleston and producer Jeremy Thomas, as well as an excellent feature on Ballard. (PS)