We’re almost at the midway point of the fortieth Toronto International Film Festival and common thematic concerns are emerging. There have been a fair amount of LGBT stories in high-profile films like Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, a biopic of Lili Elbe, and About Ray, which stars Elle Fanning as a teen girl who wants to transition into being male with mixed support from her mother. The recent winner of the Venice Film Festival, From Afar, a Venezuelan film about a 50-year-old man’s sexual relationship with a 17-year-old boy, has also been popular.
A second through-line (other than the surprising amount of dead dogs) is class warfare. Sometimes it’s done with the subtlety of Anomalisa but other times it’s ham-fisted like the allegory in Ben Wheatley’s (Kill List, Sightseers) High-Rise (4/10) – an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel of the same name. Tom Hiddleston stars as a medical doctor who moves into a state-of-the-art high-rise complex where all amenities and services are available inside the building. The higher the floor, the larger the ego, and the bigger the wealth: no one inside the building pays any attention to what is taking place outside their concrete Babel. They are the 1% and even they can be split into lower factions and fractions. Eventually, an absurdist war ensues because the higher floors feel threatened by the lower levels exciting parties.
Wheatley’s sci-fi satire resembles other social commentaries like Snowpiercer, but unlike Bong Joon-ho’s imaginative tale about a coup on a train, High-Rise has no clear route; it quickly derails.The allegory is rarely insightful. Characters and conflicts are developed in the first hour but the second half monotonously shows the upper class’ devolution. Rape, dog-eating, physical abuse, and sexual hedonism: anything associated with primal barbarism begins to surface.
High-Rise is another rich-hating movie (this perspective can be interesting) that never goes deeper than the initial implications of its metaphorical premise. Any characterization or themes get lost in a repetitive haze of debauchery.
High-Rise has been dividing critics like the tenants of the building. It has thoughtful cinematography, convincing visual effects and production design that creates a past-future hybrid. Wheatley has crafted a visually singular world by using elements from different periods, but the point he ends up making is too simplistic and clichéd to justify the off-putting redundancies.
After being worn down by High-Rise, I took the afternoon off to rest for the world premiere of Lucille Hadzihalilovic’s frustrating and perplexing Evolution (6/10). I could’ve slept the entire day; it still wouldn’t have helped me figure out what was going on.
In Hadzihalilovic’s apology letter for missing the screening, she openly stated that there was a silver lining because at least she wouldn’t be asked to decipher the meaning of her opaque film. Evolution will have a life of its own so viewers can take away whatever meaning they’d like, she explained. This is a cop-out response to a film that is intentionally abstract. A coherent interpretation is necessary to reward the confusion.
Any meaning I could decipher from this ponderous story about a boy who lives in a ghastly seaside town was incoherent at best. The lack of connection between the young boys and their female caretakers is disturbing. Eventually, many of the boys are taken to a nearby hospital run solely by female nurses who appear to be colluding with the caretakers.
There are sinister undertones in Evolution, a slow-burn that is an unsettling mix of fairytale and body-horror. The director best known for helming 2004’s Innocence and writing Gasper Noé’s Enter The Void is no stranger to atmospheric cinema. Evolution is deftly in command of its tone and I found the film scarier than the typically Blumhouse special, but the unclear metaphors and symbols are impossible to pin down. I was reminded of something Roger Ebert said in his review of El Topo. If you have to ask what something symbolizes, it probably doesn’t. Your guess is as good as mine. Who knows, maybe this is another defense of homosexual behavior or a comment on the growing divide of rich and poor. Evolution means everything and nothing at the same time.
I saw three sci-fi/fantasy movies and the most accessible and enjoyable was easily the least complicated. Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult play forbidden lovers in a cold, isolated future where emotions are considered a disease. Equals (6/10) owes a lot to The Giver and THX 1138, but it never tries to make a comment on “what it means to be human,” or the “alienation of our digital age.” Screw that! This tale as old as Romeo & Juliet is told with style and grace: a stunningly lit, passionately performed and candidly sentimental romance.
Despite the A-list leads, Equals commercial prospects are slim. Unlike all the recent YA adaptations, which essentially disguise this very story, the closest thing to an action sequence is a chase (I use that word loosely) where one character fast-walks. The film is low-key and doesn’t overplay its drama. There is a pureness to this generic and lively love story.
The unconventional compositions and the emotive electronic score almost hide the slightness of Equals’ narrative. Prominent neon lighting, and sharp shadows make this look like a 90-minute underwear commercial, but unlike High-Rise and Evolution, which are equally naked, Equals isn’t ashamed to show its scrawny body instead of hiding underneath layers of clothing.
Tomorrow: Being Charlie, Truth, February