Director: James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson
Cast: Sheridan Smith, Jack O’Connell, Russell Tovoey, Ralph Brown
Watch Tower Block online in the UK: iTunes / TalkTalk TV Store / Amazon Instant Video / Google Play
Bagging the closing night slot at last year’s FrightFest, Tower Block is a genre thriller in the classic mode of John Carpenter’s early work; a somewhat socially conscious and claustrophobic effort, it offers a lean runtime and some short, sharp shocks, although unlike the great man’s work, it doesn’t leave much in its trail of vapours once it ends.
Shrewdly utilising what must have been a fairly low budget, writer James Moran (he of the also solid Cockneys vs Zombies) and directors James Nunn & Ronnie Thompson give us a pleasingly brief set-up, as a fairly stock collection of archetypes – the strong-willed “final girl” style woman, an older couple, a mouthy drug dealer and an alcoholic – are forced together when a sniper takes deadly accurate aim at their homes. The reasons for this and the identity of the sniper are fairly obvious throughout and the film seems to know it: it doesn’t play up the angle too much, instead letting characters step up while others recede into the background and, on more than a few occasions, get bumped off.
Moran is a writer who obviously knows the genre and it’s in his slight playing with convention that much of the film’s enjoyment is derived. Sheridan Smith, the lead of the film and handling it well, plays a spunky character with moral heft but she’s far from perfect. Jack O’Connell’s bolshy drug dealer doesn’t wilt into a wallflower, nor does he become an out-and-out bad guy; many of the things he does are cruel but there’s an earthiness to his character, which bizarrely brings you onboard.
Not everything works, though: Russell Tovey’s loner is a character who adds little but takes a lot of screen time. In the overall arcs, though, and in some of the plot turns, there’s fun to be had.
Nunn & Thompson also skilfully use what they’re given. The set-pieces, of which there are a fair few, are admirably tense and well strung-out, the directors knowing when to be understated in a bid to increase foreboding. The film as a whole is given a deathly pallor by cinematographer Ben Moulden, which, unlike a great many Brit flicks, makes the film feel worthy of being seen on the biggest screen possible.
Tower Block isn’t a film that you will remember too long after seeing it – it’s too slight in premise and execution for that – but for a 92-minute Netflix watch, it’ll do very nicely.