Tower Block

Tower Block

***

Reviewed by: David Graham

As the closing film for Frightfest The 13th, many were left scratching their heads as to how relevant Tower Block was for a horror crowd, despite last year's well-received closer A Lonely Place To Die being even less genre-related. Debut directing duo James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson just about scrape by though on economical John Carpenter-pastiching thrills and full-blooded performances from an impressive cast, even if their deja vu premise is sadly too similar to the bigger-budgeted likes of the new Dredd film and the similarly themed but far superior Glasgow Frightfest final flick The Raid.

A handful of residents in the last tower block standing on a London estate are making a stand against the demolition of their home, despite living in thrall to local hoodlum Kurtis, who extorts cash from them in return for keeping the peace and not vandalizing their property. Soon the group of disparate neighbors are thrown together as sitting ducks for a mysterious sniper, trapping them in the relatively window-free landing between their flats. While the group ponder the killer's motivations and plot escape routes, long-simmering tensions rise to the surface, leading to suspicions that they may be paying the price for not helping catch the killers of a boy murdered on their doorsteps the year before.

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Prolific scriptwriter Nick Moran laces his stripped-back story with the sort of neat observations that distinguished his previous work on Severance and Cockneys Vs Zombies, but the situation at the heart of Tower Block occasionally feels stretched and the central mystery never gains much momentum. The ubiquitous Paul Hyett returns to his day job after writing and directing The Seasoning House to supply satisfying splattery effects that help build a sense of life-or-death peril, while the solitary location is exploited effectively for its claustrophobic limits, but it all feels a little old-hat, reminiscent of a schemey Assault On Precinct 13 right down to the pulsing score.

The action is enlivened by the commitment of a varied ensemble, with Sheridan Smith bringing grit and guts to her refreshingly normal heroine and Danny Brown making a suitably weathered pillar of strength at the older end of the spectrum. Skins star Jack O'Connell burns up the screen as an initially reprehensible chav terror, all wide-boy grimaces and in-your-face intensity, his gradual evolution into honorable pack-leader etched with care and nuance where it could have been clumsy and cliched. It's worth watching Tower Block for his energy alone, marking another member of the charismatic This Is England alumni with a bright future ahead of them.

Moran's attempts to inject some social pertinence work to an extent in the first half - the horror of the violence that people turn a blind eye to everyday is painfully conveyed, while the ruthless bureaucracy-minded attitude councils take towards people's communities rings true - but as the plot strives ever harder to remain relevant it also becomes increasingly ridiculous and obvious, never quite managing the skilful mixture of observation and excitement that Attack The Block and even Severance achieved. The Scooby Doo-style revelations of the climax won't surprise anyone, and the resolution feels like a bit of a cop-out, but Tower Block still packs enough thrills into its ideal run-time and wrings enough suspense from its derivative dilemma to make it worth catching, making it another home-grown success in a strong couple of years for British genre film-making.

Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2012
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The life and times of the last occupants of Tower Block 31.
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