Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise.
Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise is stuffed to bursting with sex and violence. All the excesses and class tensions of 70s England are jammed into a single apartment tower and set to boil over. The day after the film’s world premiere at TIFF, I sat down with Wheatley and co-star Luke Evans, who plays a lower-floor resident jealous of the high-class tenants played by Tom Hiddleston, Elisabeth Moss and Jeremy Irons.
Staging the movie’s slide into chaos was just a lot of work. “It’s really, really hard, and it’s really dull,” Wheatley says. “It’s a lot of worrying about how many bags of rubbish are in the corridor. It’s massive headaches for the art department – there’s a lot of repainting of walls and distressing of stuff, and crazy amounts of costumes that are slowly coming apart. It’s a testament to the continuity team and costume and makeup and the art department that I got to the edit suite and there was no trouble with it.”
“I’d come off Dracula Untold,” says Evans, “a big movie, where you’re used to working at a slower pace. Set pieces have to be reset over a few hours or whatever.” On High-Rise, though? “We were doing, like, 10 to 15 scenes a day. Sometimes two or three takes, sometimes just one. As soon as he got what he needed, we moved on.”
Evans spends half the movie regressing into a primitive -alpha male bent on dominating his neighbours. But the character has a pretty high level of testosterone to begin with – “like, eight or nine for me,” Evans says – which meant he still had a long way to go. “I realized that I would have to make my top number 20 because I was having to go further and further,” he says ruefully. “I didn’t envy him a bit of it,” Wheatley laughs. “It’s really easy to say ‘Do that,’ and then, when you see it unfolding, you just go, ‘Fucking hell.’”
While he agrees that High-Rise is an intense experience, Wheatley doesn’t think the film is especially difficult. “I went to see [Hardcore Henry], which is at a completely different scale,” he says. “People kept saying that A Field In England was really difficult, and I was thinking, ‘Have you not seen any Tarkovsky stuff? Or Béla Tarr stuff?’ I mean, this is what hardcore world cinema is.”
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