It is peculiarly timely that both High-Rise (Studiocanal, 15) and London Has Fallen (Lionsgate, 15) hit shelves tomorrow: for better and (mostly) worse, these are films for the addled, overcast mood of mid-Brexit Britain. Not that the former, Ben Wheatley’s lacquered yet brutalist adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel, is overtly a film of its moment. Elaborately decked out in concrete and shag carpeting, this clattering study of a glistening tower block collapsing under the weight of its social iniquities and inequalities plays as both an end-of-days fantasy and a water-damaged period piece.
It evokes the 1970s and its mildewed economic turmoil right down to a concluding (and overly on-the-nose) quote from a brink-of-power Margaret Thatcher at the close. Watching it last autumn, I found High-Rise both formally imposing and politically safe: a calculated vision of chaos, scored and designed to the nth degree of hot-mess splendour, yet seemingly at pains to distance itself from a more contemporary application of Ballard’s thesis. As the pound plummets and population divisions fester, however, I wonder if the film has stumbled its way into relevance. Let the bad times roll.
London Has Fallen, meanwhile, cloddishly stumbles into… well, not relevance, exactly, but a kind of beef-brained reflection of the far right’s least nuanced political insecurities. “Get back to Fuckheadistan or wherever it is you’re from,” grunts US presidential bodyguard Gerard Butler to one of the many indistinguishable Muslim terrorists he guns down in the course of this ugly, gungy first-world-under-fire thriller; the action hero we need in these times, apparently, is Nigel Farage with stubble and a gym contract.
In the film’s predecessor, Olympus Has Fallen, Butler saved the White House from North Korean invaders with cheap, cheerful aplomb. This time, it’s London, blitzed by Pakistani arms dealers with the chintziest digital effects in recent blockbusterdom, requiring gung-ho American rescue after our prime minister suspiciously keels over. Search for allegorical parallels to Westminster’s disorder if it amuses you; just don’t credit this flatly racist hokum with any intelligence.
Better yet, ignore it and unsettle yourself, instead, with The Witch (Universal, 15). In debut director Robert Eggers’s formidably shivery 17th-century horror story, a rural New England family unravel in a fit of Christian hysteria after their infant son vanishes into thin air otherwise thick with stern, stormy mood. Beautifully shot in shades of driftwood, with sparse dialogue written in the formal, heightened idiom of the period, the film commits fully to the austerity of its milieu, while maintaining an intriguingly ambiguous fidelity to its characters’ God-fearing faith, as Satanism (or perhaps just damaging imaginings thereof) encroaches on the family’s already fragile peace. Eggers, for his part, maintains a slow, sinuous creep; not overly concerned with big scares, his film gets under your skin before you can jump out of it.
Yet another magnetising characterisation by Cate Blanchett is the best reason James Vanderbilt’s otherwise respectably camel-coloured political drama Truth (Warner, 15) has for being. As once disgraced journalist and 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes, she’s all shoulder-padded swagger masking burnt, jangling nerves; she commands emotional involvement even when the plot-fuelling scandal, about questionably unearthed documents throwing George W Bush’s military record into question, is a decade past its boiling point.
Things get a bit more heated in Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (Metrodome, 18). If French director Eva Husson’s pleasingly permissive study of teenage promiscuity isn’t quite as boundary-pushing as it imagines, it at least observes sexuality with elegant candour. Doing the same while maintaining a genuine sense of risk – after 40 years, no less – is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fox and His Friends (Arrow, 15), a blazing, biting, still pointed survey of homosexual activity and exchange across the class divide. Now reissued on Blu-ray, paired up with Fassbender’s fascinating, more clinically designed bourgeois takedown Chinese Roulette, it’s the best film on the shelf this week.
Finally, sexual and class frustrations jostle to more chipper effect in Brahman Naman, Netflix’s latest premiere to be poached from the most recent Sundance festival lineup. An Indian spin on the John Hughes playbook, this jovial, 1980s-set tale of book-smart male college nerds in Bangalore dumbly bumbling their way out of virginity goes light on the raunch by western standards, but establishes its own ground by deftly weaving local, caste-related tensions into its adolescent nostalgia.