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By Jane McKerrow and David Pountain

Drawing comparisons to Donald Cammell’s Performance, David Cronenberg’s Shivers and Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer, one would assume A Field In England director Ben Wheatley’s latest feature would be a hit with the critics, but the highly anticipated adaptation of the controversial novel of the same name by J.G Ballard (Empire of the Sun, Crash) drew a mixed response.

There’s a general acknowledgement among critics that High-Rise is an unusual work – perhaps too unusual for minds to be made up so early:

“A flashy and frequently incoherent adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s towering 1975 social critique, in which the low-budget British genre innovator seizes the excuse to play with professional-grade actors, sets and camera equipment, while taking a wrecking ball to many of the novel’s brightest ideas… It could take decades for critics and audiences to appreciate whatever genius lurks behind the chaos, but for the time being, it seems like little more than madness.” – Peter Debruge, Variety 

Some critics chose to give themselves over to the film in all its mad, flawed glory:

“The most disturbing part of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise is how utterly normal its apocalypse is… This is a leisurely drive into social collapse, and if that doesn’t freak you out then nothing in this movie will, and maybe it’s already too late.” – William Bibbiani, Crave Online

“Ben Wheatley’s shiny, luxuriously appointed JG Ballard adaptation serves up orgiastic mayhem on a silver platter… Ballard’s concept is meticulously, lovingly recreated, like a museum exhibit of itself. But the tone is always more playful than it is disturbing, a walled-off black joke which opts out of saying anything new.”  – Tim Robey, Telegraph

“Entering JG Ballard’s High-Rise carries an apartment block’s worth of expectations for young British director Ben Wheatley… Ben Wheatley can still make his work look modern and edgy in times when we think we’ve seen it all… High-Rise may have its stumbling blocks, and it certainly isn’t perfect, but that’s always going to be the case with a film which forces you on board for a wild and messy ride.” – Fionnuala HalliganScreen Daily    

While others found the whole experience shallow and tedious:

“Screenwriter Amy Jump and director Ben Wheatley are less concerned with the message than with the madness, and their resulting picture is heavier on style than substance… “˜High-Rise’ doesn’t have a plot so much as an escalating mood of slowly unwinding chaos. Indirectly or inadvertently, viewers are left in their own penthouse of sorts, watching from afar with a curious but detached interest.” – Kevin Jagernauth, Indiewire 

“It looks more like a ropey old horror film from the period, more Garth Marenghi than David Cronenberg… The most powerful elements remain Ballard’s own sardonic words in voiceover or dialogue. High Rise has been highly anticipated and perhaps some of Wheatley’s fans were satisfactorily regaled by its generous helpings of grotesque sex and violence. But to any less committed viewer it seemed merely tedious.” – David Sexton, Evening Standard

“Wheatley has made High Rise his story, instead of Ballard’s. That’s fine – but, unfortunately, it’s a less interesting take. It’s not a disaster, but the faults stack up. It took nearly 40 years for High Rise to make it to big screen. After all that time, this is a bit of a dog’s dinner.” – Henry Barnes, Guardian

But one common theme for this film’s early consensus is that even in failure High-Rise is something to behold:

“Rarely have so many classy ingredients added up to such a muted, muddled, multi-story mess. Of course, it is still better to make an ambitious failure than a boring success. A true disaster movie, in all senses, High-Rise is ultimately an ambitious failure.” – Stephen Dalton, Hollywood Reporter

“The first 20 minutes of Ben Wheatley’s feverishly anticipated High-Rise offer the suggestion – no, it’s more than a suggestion, it’s an assurance – that you’ve just sat down to a sick modern classic. And it’s around that 20 minute mark where things abruptly start crumbling to pieces, the same scenarios and ideas playing out ad infinitum until the film putters to a halt… Brilliant sequences and witty non-sequiturs pile up, all individually dazzling but at the service of nothing… It’s ironic that Wheatley’s most expansive production is also his most alienating and esoteric, but there’s no doubt that the world is a much more exciting and dangerous place for its existence.” – David Jenkins, Little White Lies

Watch Ben Wheatley’s acclaimed previous work A Field in England now at (UK & Ireland only) 

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