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I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that depicted the future in a totally positive light. All we've seen in recent years are overbearing dystopias. Sure, everything was great for the upper crust in Elysium, but Earth was a real pit. While I’ve whined in the past about the number of novel adaptations in this sub-genre, I’m positively ecstatic that ScreenDaily is reporting that U.K. director Ben Wheatley has signed on to direct High Rise, a film based on the darkly satirical sci-fi novel from author J.G. Ballard. Any movie directed by Wheatley is definitely worth the watch, and Ballard’s work just begs to be visually realized.
The book, first published in 1975, takes place inside a high-rise building where tenants live in luxury with all the most up-to-date features. Unfortunately, the building ends up turning into a mini-representation of the world at large, where power and class struggles are birthed and everyone devolves, eventually turning everyone both against each other and the outside world. To give it a trendy comparison, I’d say it’s Jong Boon-Ho's upcoming Snowpiercer mixed with Gareth Evans The Raid: Redemption. And yes, I know that High Rise is more ultra-modern than futuristic, so it doesn’t quite fit in with my earlier assessment, but it’s close enough.
With four films under his belt, along with numerous TV episodes and a segment in The ABCs of Death, Wheatley has proven himself to be as perfect as anyone to get High Rise made. His masterpiece so far has been 2011’s mindfuck Kill List, but the violent comedy thriller Sightseers, the crime comedy Down Terrace and the hypnotic and narrative-light A Field in England were all excellent and unsettling films for different reasons. His unique vision should make this claustrophobic implosion of civilization downright nauseating, and I can’t wait.
Turning this novel into a feature has been a decades-long goal of producer Jeremy Thomas, a close friend of the late author. “I love Ballard’s work,” said Wheatley. “I started looking into who had the rights for the book and that led me to Jeremy, who has made some of my favorite films. It took me a few meetings just to get over the typewriter he has from Naked Lunch in his office.” I need to get into this office at some point apparently. It wasn’t long ago that Vincenzo Natali (Splice) was attached to direct the film based on a screenplay he wrote with Richard Stanley, but the rights to the story lapsed.
Wheatley will be directing from a script written by his usual screenwriting partner Amy Jump, and he says his version will be completely different from earlier planned adaptations, as he strove to be “true to Ballard.” I can’t help but imagine most directors would heavily edit some of Ballard’s details, even though the book is barely over 200 pages. Wheatley is the kind of director who shies away from absolutely nothing.
He shares that quality with director David Cronenberg, who adapted Ballard’s novel Crash in 1996 (the auto accident eroticism flick, not the racial slur that won Best Picture in 2006). And though it wasn’t nominated for the highest honor, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ballard’s Empire of the Sun was nominated for six other Oscars in 1988. I’m not starting the awards buzz on High Rise just yet, but just you wait.
Wheatley and Thomas are setting up the film to start production in 2014, which will have to find its way into Wheatley’s schedule, which currently features an HBO pilot, a U.K. series and the thriller Freakshift.