Release Date: 21st September, 2012
Directors: James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson
Starring: Sheridan Smith, Jack O’Connell, Ralph Brown
Tower Block is an extremely economical British thriller which sees the occupants of Serenity House set aside their differences and band together when they find themselves under threat by a deadly sniper. It features a few recognisable character actors and familiar faces from television, but this is far from the big budget release you may be accustomed to after a summer chock-full of blockbusters, A-listers and CGI.
The film opens cold with a youth running, terrified by two assailants who pursue him to Serenity House. He arrives at a landing, pleading for help outside the doors of the tenants, but his cries fall on deaf ears as they further bolt their doors, turn a blind eye and avoid the confrontation entirely. Our protagonist, Becky (Sheridan Smith), attempts to stand up for the youth as he is brutally beaten, however she is powerless against the attackers. Shaken by the events, the Sheridan House residents remain silent during police enquiry following the crime. A few months later, shots are fired through the windows of their homes and they must try and find a way out before they are picked off one by one.
Tower Block, as stated, is economical. Not just in its low-budget aesthetic (almost all of the film takes place in a corridor and a couple of rooms, even though the actors do well to try to hide it), but also in its storytelling. Expect to see a good few stereotypes in the mix — the low-life junkies, the struggling alcoholic, the trashy single mother, the ageing couple who really-should-not-be-living-somewhere-quite-like-this, the kid who is a video gamer and, of course, has a working comprehensive knowledge of military weaponry… You get the idea. Characters are as quickly built up as they are shot in the head, and I would be lying if I said I cared much for a good few members of the ensemble. Thankfully one of the more pleasant surprises was Jack O’Connell’s Kurtis — the resident hard nut/ned/chav — whose arc ends up genuinely interesting and avoids predictability. His chemistry with Smith works well, and its hard to take your eyes off of him as he navigates effortlessly between a blasé attitude, violent outbursts, selfishness, arrogance and courage.
Visually, the film is minimalistic. The palette verges on almost completely desaturated and there really isn’t too much to break up the grey, save from a few external shots of the tower block. I was slightly unsettled by just how close up some of the shots were on faces during conversation, with some scenes looking out of place on the big screen and perhaps suiting a television screen a little more comfortably, which seems appropriate as the television (or, I suppose, the computer screen) is possibly how the majority who view Tower Block will probably end up seeing it.
Words like ‘minimalistic’ and ‘economical’ almost seem like disclaimers, and to an extent, they are. While a film should be able to stand on its own regardless of budget, it’s worth going in to this film knowing that it does not have the large scope (ed: Ha! Sniper pun) that a traditional thriller may have. There are moments where I was aware of the production limitations of the film, but for the most part Tower Block maintains a great pace, throwing a good amount of jump scares, thrills, twists, suspense and even humour throughout. There are a load of MacGuffins at work throughout the screenplay to justify how a sniper can lay siege to an entire block of flats without alerting any authorities, but it’s easier to accept these and move on than it is to think about them too hard.
Tower Block is a solid film which, in many respects, punches above its weight. While it falls into the trap of looking a little bland and making use of stereotypes, the action, suspense, and thrills barely let up at all. Coupled with some interesting characters, performances and genuinely thought-provoking themes, it’s definitely one to look out for if you get the chance.