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Bone Tomahawk/High-Rise

Jeremy Clarke

Bone Tomahawk
Directed by Craig S. Zahler
Cert 18, 132 mins

Directed by Ben Wheatley
Cert 18, 118 mins


To watch Bone Tomahawk is to watch a series of Wild West vignettes with a small number of characters in different locations - a primitive burial ground, a living room, a sheriff's office, a crime scene in a stable, camp fires on a cross-country trail, a cave occupied by cannibals. It is also to follow a series of characters - a sheriff (Kurt Russell) given to shooting suspicious people in the legs, a foreman (Patrick Wilson) with an injured leg, his wife (Lili Simmons) a medical practitioner, a ladies man (Matthew Fox) with a reputation for killing Indians and an enthusiastic, second deputy sheriff (Richard Jenkins) eager to do the job. Boasting masterful characterisation, the script outwits its audience at every turn while the cast do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life on the screen. Made on a shoestring budget, it's a real pleasure to watch, a reminder of just how great the best movies can be.

A lot has happened in terms of technology, society and politics in the years since J. G. Ballard published his seminal 1975 novel High-Rise. Instead of trying to deal with any of this, Wheatley and regular co-writer/ editor Amy Jump have adapted the book as a period piece, breaking it down into constituent elements for reassembly as a screenplay. If the film changed during the writing and adaptation process, one imagines it also changed quite a bit during shooting and editing. The result is at once the book previously read and something entirely different which paradoxically works not as an adaptation but as a film in its own right. So for instance, a late scene where a character enters an area to be confronted by women brandishing kitchen knives is turned into almost trance-like, kaleidoscopic multiple images of hands brandishing blades. It's the same, yet completely different.

A self-contained, forty floor tower-block wherein residents start to define their group status in terms of their floor number and its distance from the ground below, and the social fabric breaks down into interfloor conflict. Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), an unsettling spark behind his eyes, finds himself increasingly obsessed with the high-rise's interior life. The residents have all bought homes in the block; none are State-dependent and all possess a degree of wealth. The better off (who live higher up the building) are allowed to park closer than those living lower down, which means that as drink receptacles, foodstuffs and even bodies get dumped over balcony edges, it's the cars of these more affluent types which sustain the damage. As the whole block descends into a factionalised orgy of sex, drink and violence, it begs the question where society was in 1975 to give rise to such a bleak vision - and where it should be today given that Wheatley/Jump's film seems to resonate much as Ballard's book did on publication.