Abba's S.O.S. neither conjures up images of brutalist architecture and imploding dystopias nor serves as a vicious satire of the British class system. Yet it's used twice in Ben Wheatley's new adaption of J G Ballard's 'unfilmable' novel and both times it works a treat. It may well have even overtaken Mamma Mia in my list of favourite Abba songs.
It's one of many, seemingly, disparate components that feel like they shouldn't gel well together but do. Whilst each ingredient looks tempting in its own right it's hard to imagine the sum of their parts adding up to anything other than a dog's breakfast. It's to director Wheatley and writer Amy Jump's testament that that isn't the case.
The film is beautifully shot. If you've got a concrete fetish you'll not be left disappointed, the high rise itself is like Le Corbusier let loose on the Barbican. If you're into retro-futurism, oh boy, there's so much here for you. If you simply want to gawp at Sienna Miller you'll probably not be disappointed. Should you prefer Tom Hiddleston you'll find he's a fantastic specimen of a male. There's even something for Pop Will Eat Itself fans as Clint Mansell's score is utterly superb, working in both the aforementioned Abba covers and a lovely little treat I won't spoil towards the end.
That's all front of house stuff but the actual score Mansell's composed does the heavy lifting. It can sometimes be the mark of a good soundtrack if you hardly notice it and that applies here. Most importantly during the hinterlands of the film as idyllic and futuristic tower block living slowly, and then rapidly, descends into a confusing hellish maelstrom.
Hiddleston's Dr Laing is the closest we get to a moral compass throughout the film. Though we're never entirely sure of his motivations we can at least view the ongoing depravity through the prism of his seemingly aloof exterior. Luke Evans's Wilder is the fire to Laing's ice. Lemmy as working class hero who rails against those on the upper floors while, perhaps, not attending to his own inner crises. It's a bravura performance. Possibly the first among equals in a massively impressive ensemble cast.
Dan Skinner, who I relied on my cinema date (thanks, Toby) to inform me played Angelos Epithemiou in Shooting Stars, also deserves a mention for playing nasty piece of work Simmons. Tracksuited up, his role is, nominally, to act as a gopher for top floor dweller, building architect, and all round creepy fucker Anthony Royal. Played by Jeremy Irons who does seem to have a natural talent for these roles. Honourable mention too to Elisabeth Moss who plays Wilder's pregnant, and put upon, wife. It's something of a thankless role in a film where men, in the style of 1975 when it was set, tend to dominate.
The narrative of the film disintegrates as sure as the moral certainties of the characters. It's a tricky thing to portray but, back to that recipe again, it's done with no little aplomb. Odd dreamlike sequences rub up against quotidian scenes of cereal purchase. Facial hair and Minis very much of the 70s crash headlong into more post-modern mores and societal angst. The glass Sienna Miller's Charlotte nearly drops on Hiddleston's sunbathing Laing is not the last thing to fall from a great height. Either allegoric or actual.
There's some gore, there's some violence, there's some sex, there's some spot the reference stuff if that's your thing. You'd be hard pushed to miss the nods to Don't Look Now, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and even Columbo. So it's got all the makings of a blockbuster. Yet, judging by the surprisingly large number of people who walked out of the Curzon Soho during the screening, it resides more in arthouse territory. If you're in either camp you'll find plenty to admire in this film. If, like me, you keep a foot in each that's better still.
As the occasional outside shot reveals, this high rise is just one of many in development. There are eight million stories in the city. This was just one of them.