Young, good looking, but personally unremarkable doctor Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) has just moved into a trendy-looking (for the ’70s, where the film is set), brutalist, concrete, monolithic high-rise. Shortly after moving in and meeting the enigmatic architect of the project (Jeremy Irons), who dwells in the overly opulent penthouse, Laing becomes so comfortable in, and acclimated to, his surroundings that he barely ever leaves, even to go to work. It slowly dawns upon him that despite living on a floor solidly in the middle of the structure, those who live on the upper levels are eating up all the building’s resources and looking down upon those on the lower floors (often literally). While Laing is largely too ineffective to do anything about the ongoing class divide, frustrated documentarian and fellow building resident Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) looks to shake things up.

J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel, High-Rise, was very much of its time, in terms of setting and cultural context, but its themes have resonated for decades. It’s also, thanks to Ballard’s perpetually obtuse nature, something that would be patently impossible to film if adapted for the screen word for word. This makes the latest effort from British filmmaker Ben Wheatley (Kill ListSightseers) an ambitious undertaking, but one that pays off. It’s a literal trip — a work of pure anarchic glee, told with relentless amounts of energy and élan.

Impeccably designed, expertly cast and featuring the best use of ABBA covers ever, Wheatley crafts a purposefully messy film about a chaotic situation; it’s not a story that benefits well from a controlled structure. The joy of reading Ballard comes from believing that anything can happen at any time, which is matched by the screenplay from Wheatley’s most faithful collaborator, Amy Jump. It’s smart-assed, drug-addled, sex-crazed, primal, misanthropic and most of it will never make a lick of sense, even after mulling it over.

As the residents of the building descend further into madness while their social statuses all plummet, Wheatley perhaps dwells a bit too much in the decline of the building. The pace of the film slows down drastically around an hour in – not sacrificing any surreal weirdness, mind you – so Wheatley can take his time revelling in this once great structures fall into disrepair and squalor. While some might get antsy, this seeming “problem” is endemic of both Ballard’s work as an author and Wheatley as a filmmaker. They’re observers; loquacious documentarians of heinous fictional situations. They’ll take as much time as they want, and they won’t apologize for it. Both traffic in obvious and subtle metaphor. Much like gifted theatrical satirists, they throw a lot of things at the wall and hope they stick. If one doesn’t like something that’s going on, if they wait long enough, something else will catch their fancy. It’s a work of great confidence in adaptation.

For many, High-Rise will be a tough sit. For those willing to go down Wheatley’s rabbit hole, it’s breathlessly entertaining, if slightly exhausting.