Posts Tagged ‘David Cronenberg’

“It’s like we all silently decided to cross a line” bemoans High-Rise‘s central, well-to-do temptress, Charlotte (Sienna Miller) half-way through Ben Wheatley’s latest film, and it is no exaggeration.

Adapting J.G Ballard is no mean feat and it has previously required the strength of Spielberg, or Cronenberg to do him justice. Luckily, High-Rise, a project in the works virtually since the novel’s release in 1975 – due to producer Jeremy Thomas’ insistence on creating an adaptation – is in safe hands with the relatively young (in filmmaking terms) Ben Wheatley.

Wheatley has acquired a cult following after his work on small indie films (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England) and High-Rise is his biggest-budget project to date. His darkly comic (and often violent) tone is a highly suitable approach for a J.G Ballard adaptation, a writer who – particularly throughout the 70s and 80s – was known for a similar style.

In a Q&A after tonight’s screening, Wheatley expressed how his involvement with this project was down to a chance meeting with producer Jeremy Thomas, after assuming the rights would be held by a Hollywood conglomerate. As a result, Wheatley was able to access the resources and star-power not previously available to him, to create a highly stylish, 70’s infused dystopian thriller in the same vein as the source material. Wheatley has expressed a desire to remain faithful to the “highly visual” nature of the novel, ignoring all previous screenplay attempts at this adaptation.

High-Rise begins in relative order. We are introduced to the titular housing project through new tenant Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) who moves into the 25th floor of the 40 story building in which the “cream of the crop” live at the top and the working class tenants live at the bottom. Laing meets his neighbours from all levels of the tower block, establishing varying relationships with all of them.

Then, as Charlotte’s premonition predicts, everything turns into chaos, narratively and structurally, through a nightmarish kaleidoscopic montage sequence, halfway through the film’s running time. It is a disorientating effect, as we go through the looking glass into a newly established disorder, where everyone looks to protect themselves with their varying means of defence.

Wheatley expertly keeps control of an all-star cast including Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss and an excellent turn from Luke Evans as a George Best meets Evil Dead‘s Ash lower-class rebel, who leads the charge against the upper floors. In what becomes an anarchic orgy of sex and violence, Wheatley always maintains the narrative’s satirical and darkly comic tone throughout, never losing focus despite the carnage – especially during the film’s final reveal.

High-Rise is an extremely successful tribute to 70’s sci-fi, brimming with excellent performances and design and references to films such as A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse, Now. It highlights the burgeoning mania of “modern living” with a post-modern view on Thatcherite politics that continue to prevail today.

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The zombie genre has had somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, what with all the TV and film projects emerging from the grave. With Halley, Mexican director Sebastian Hofmann might have just ushered in a new era of zombie films – except this time they’re not quite dead yet. This unusual body horror follows loner Beto, a gym security guard, who realises that his body is steadily decaying before his own eyes. Approaching the grisly subject with an abstract, arty aesthetic, Halley is a must for fans of David Cronenberg.

The script, written by Hofmann and Julio Chavezmontes, is rather lean. Beto, in his 30’s, nerdy and rather creepy, decides to quit his job at the gym, informing his lonely boss Luly that his ‘illness’ is ruining his work. It doesn’t help that the toned, machismo gym members provide a painful contrast with his own dwindling health. Back at home, Beto tends to the boils and wounds peppered all over his body. He is literally seeping. In order to fight it he injects himself with embalming fluid, which he combines with his TV watching. He is dragged to the local church to hear the preachers talk about illness as a sign of sin; Beto is evidently unimpressed.

The only form of redemption in his life comes from Luly, who tries to take him out dancing. Lonely herself, their staccato dialogue and Beto’s frigidity will leave the viewer excruciated. The two performances are both strong, although Beto himself doesn’t have much to do. Alberto Trujillo’s performance as Beto brings to mind Napoleon Dynamite if he was having an existential crisis, a stubbornly introspective turn that hardly endears him to the audience.  Luly Trueba as the jaded boss injects the film with much needed warmth and openness.

Aesthetically the film is interesting; fellow native Carlos Reygadas comes to mind in the sterile, cloudy photography (it comes as no surprise to learn that Reygadas’ producers worked on this as well). Hofmann chooses to cut out the faces of many of his characters, creating an abstract, distanced portrayal. Much of Beto is seen from his disease-ridden back. Cronenberg would be delighted. The sound design also plays a big part, as every chew, tear, peel, spit and vomit is captured with uncomfortable accuracy. Unfortunately the film is let down by a script that doesn’t lead anywhere from the intriguing concept, leaving the audience dulled by the episodic, languid narrative.

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Canadian director David Cronenberg has had something of  a career change in recent years. Once renowned for his body horror features, he took a turn towards more psychologically probing thrillers. Horror fanboys might balk at this transformation, but you could argue that Cronenberg hasn’t really changed his spots. His films are still focused on human dysfunction and the less palatable parts of our nature, but this time it’s under the skin.

A Dangerous Method tells the story of perhaps the ultimate psychoanalytical drama, that of Freud and Jung. Cronenberg details how the young and upcoming Jung (Michael Fassbender) is taken under the wing of the more established Freud  (Viggo Mortensen), an intellectual buddy duo if you will. Their relationship starts to disintegrate when the two disagree about the right treatment of a wayward patient, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), which is a microcosm for their wider held views.

The film is handsome and fairly engrossing. There are some Edward Hopperesque mise en scenes, and the era is carefully reconstructed. Fassbender and Mortensen are fine in their roles, though neither character stretches two actors who have given a lot more in other roles. Keira Knightley, however, is a unwelcome distraction. Spielrein suffered from bouts of hysteria and unfortunately Knightley fails to convey this in an authentic fashion. Her gargoyle gurning seems to suggest an actor rooting around for the right way to play a difficult role, but I was yearning for an unknown instead, someone not quite as prim as Knightley.

Much of the film relies on extended dialogues between the characters discussing theories and dreams, and there is only perhaps one set piece in the entire film. This leads me to question whether this story lends itself that well to cinema. It is interesting no doubt, Jung and Freud’s relationship and the ideas that they were pioneering, but you get the sense that you would get a richer, more in depth reading from a book on the subject rather than a film. Additionally, the difficult material leads Cronenberg into some stagey drama that occasionally feels like a parody of a serious Hollywood biopic.

It’s still an intriguing, insightful film, but not wholly successful in its execution.

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