2015/ UK, Ireland, Belgium
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremeny Irons, Sienna Miller
Words: C. Abbott
The latest work from director Ben Wheatley is one of his most obtuse and intriguing films thus far. It doesn’t quite fit into any pre-established narrative boxes or existing examples of genre fiction. This is a unique beast, and a difficult one to tackle. In fact, on a personal level it took two viewings to really grasp this films identity and settle on my feelings towards it. This is a vision of the future from a paranoid past and created in a discontent present. Dystopian, isolating and darkly amusing, there really are few other examples of this particular narrative.
Set almost entirely within the confines of a bare, imposing high-rise apartment block, we witness the sudden and devastating collapse of its residents, society and ecosystem. To guide use through this self-contained ‘fall of Rome’, the character of Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) journeys with us through the discovery and oddly attracting qualities of living in such a hell. This provides the films backbone, the performance Hiddleston gives is alluring and wildly entertaining. It is clear he put his all into convincing the audience, or perhaps distracting them of the bizzaro world the narrative operates in. Laing has numerous encounters throughout the proceedings with the architect of the building, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) which often provide the strongest moments of the film. Irons is completely captivating as this restless, futile pseudo-god living atop the building. This forms into a rather blatant critical assessment of our own society, one of class and discontent.
The issue with the film is that it just isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. The reflective exploration of society is all surface; any subtly is lost by the second act as it descends into violence and chaos. The meaning here is clear yet not impactful, there is only so many times you can witness the mistreatment of dogs before your eyes start to roll and your body begins to fidget. It all begins to feel wasteful. It was once said that this was an un-filmable story, while that isn’t entirely true as this does have plenty to offer, it is an understandable statement. Pacing is the strongest enemy here, trusting us from order to chaos at moments notices, with little investment to be had. This is a shame because the characterisation is truly compelling and ultimately feels as though the script could have used two or three more drafts.
Wheatley however should be commended for finally bringing this narrative to screen, even if the results are imperfect. It is a flawed, messy and uneven film yet an undeniably interesting one. This is set to polarise and will get people talking, which is a great thing. Elevated by standout performances and is aesthetically unique, everyone will have a strong opinion towards this which is better than what the majority of films can provide.