Long a dream project for producer Jeremy Thomas, J.G. Ballard's dystopian High-Rise is finally getting its chance to loom on screen, with Ben Wheatley directing and Amy Jump writing the screenplay. Film4 are the backers.
Ballard's 1975 satirical sci-fi novel takes place in a tower block, which is supposed to be a gleaming new, exciting and exotic home for its affluent residents, but ends up isolating and factionalising them into all-out war, with the surface sophistication degenerating to primal savagery. In short, it seems a perfect vehicle to continue the idiosyncratic humour-and-horror proclivities of the team behind Kill List, Sightseers and A Field In England.
Thomas first attempted to get High-Rise made in the late '70s with Nicolas Roeg. Rudy Wurlitzer (Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid) wrote a screenplay that remained in development for a number of years, and most recently the project was in the hands of Vincenzo Natali (Splice).
For a time, Natali was actually talking about a sort of "High-Rise 2.0", not actually adapting the novel but spinning off from it. Initially working with Wurlitzer's script, he ultimately abandoned it for a new version by Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil). But when time ran out on that particular incarnation, Wheatley saw his chance to step in.
"I love Ballard’s work," he tells Screen Daily. "I started looking into who had the rights for High-Rise and that led me to Jeremy, who has made some of my favourite films. It took me a few meetings just to get over the typewriter he has from [David Cronenberg's 1991 William Burroughs adaptation] Naked Lunch in his office."
Wheatley says that the idea is to be "true to Ballard", meaning the setting will remain an English one. ”The scope of the film is exciting," he says. "It will be challenging like [1996 Ballard adaptation, again by Cronenberg] Crash, but not as dark as Kill List. The book is pretty out there though!"
Thomas says that Jump's screenplay is completely different to the previous attempts, and that the source remains "a glorious book with great cinematic possibilities."