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Tower Block is a lesson in how to make fine films in single locations
with tiny budgets that are character driven, effects-light and based on
sharply written simple premises, which are blackly funny but still
suspenseful. That Tower Block marks the feature directorial debuts for
James Nunn & Ronnie Thompson, is astounding. What a way to start!
1950's Britain saw the birth of high-rise blocks as a solution to the
post-war population boom. For a while they were popular for their views
and originality. Then we grew up, realized how bad they were for
morale, how quickly they became havens for crime and we started
Fast forward to preset day London. The residents on the top floor of one such tower block have stubbornly remained in their flats until the council can rehouse them, despite threats from the developer who has acquired the land and to being victims of extortion by number one grunt of the block, Kurtis. When a resident is beaten to death in a vicious attack, all but one of the other tenants bolt their doors and hope the trouble will go away. But Becky's heroics count for nothing and her bruises cause her to withdraw, too. Then, one morning several months later, a sniper starts executing them.
The stylized title sequence sets the tone of the film with muted colours, camera angles that make heads tilt and an intensity that puts the viewer on edge from the outset. We know there'll be a shot fired sooner or later, but it's still a jolt when the initial shot happens. It certainly makes an impact We're given only the briefest introductions to the characters before the dying commences in style. It's ruthless when it happens and the 90-minute running time ensures the pace is tightened for maximum impact. But, though the journey is swift, Tower Block is far from being only about action and brutality. Each character who survives the initial onslaught is given (some) time to breathe and relationships are hastily forged where previously there has been barely a glance shared on the top floor.
The closest Tower Block comes to a star is Sheridan Smith, an actress who made her name in TV (Eyes Down, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps) and has earned plaudits and gongs on the stage in Legally Blonde and Hedda Gabler. In Tower Block, Smith states her intention to conquer the big screen, too, with a strong performance as a determined woman forced to lead a clutch of neighbours fighting for survival despite dwindling options and rising tempers.
Excellent as she is, Smith shares ownership of the limelight with Jack O'Connell (Eden Lake, Harry Brown) as Kurtis. Though Kurtis is utterly detestable from the moment we meet him, O'Connell subtly unravels him to reveal insecurities and fears that have been shrouded in a flapping cloak of aggression for years. Deep within this morally corrupt monster lies a code of conduct and a pragmatism that one can't help, well, if not liking then at least enjoying. And screenwriter James Moran has gifted him some of the funnies quips of the film.
The supporting cast forms a who's who of council estate characters and there's a certain amount of pleasure to be gained from guessing who's destined to become the next splatter of pulp across the wall. And when it inevitably arrives, each demise brings its own cocktail of wince and smile.
Moran, who is given a moment of glory with the presence of his Cockneys Versus Zombies poster, writes from within each character with the same tone he set in 2006's Severance. There are no pointless monologues of exposition, just beautiful, jagged and bitterly funny snatches of conversation that reflect each character's evolution from their reticence to reveal too much, to the spewing of emotion when their mortality is callously close. If this is anything to go by, next year's Silent Night of the Living Dead could be stunning.
Though last night's audience was woefully small, it was a preview screening and the buzz with which the viewers left was palpable and Tower Block is likely to be a film that steadily builds an audience via word of mouth. And so it should. It's an exciting, gritty, funny film and, in the current batch of 'films in towers', though it falls short of the virtually flawless The Raid, I suspect it ranks higher than Dredd and positively towers above Man on Ledge and Tower Heist.
Tower Block misses perfection for some silly mistakes it is impossible to point out here without giving away plot lines other than to say the final act of violence was three inches the wrong side of cheesy and when a certain character improvises with 'armour', only in the worst moments of Hollywood would it be adequate. But these are but silly errors of judgment in an otherwise riveting film that'll have you thinking twice before you thrown open the curtains.
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It doesn't make any sense at all (in many ways, especially don't start
with continuity and/or logic), but it can still be fairly enjoyable if
you let it. You have your generic characters (good and bad guys thrown
into the mix), that assemble and have to find a way to work together.
Character motivation is simple as is the premise. Motivation for the
ultimate bad guy in this might be paper thin, but if that's all you're
worried about, you might as well stop watching.
While not really big in the story department, this does have a way of holding the tension pretty high. The cast is surely to "blame" for that at parts, too. Still don't expect too much and this might even exceed your expectations.
The screenplay is with intrigues and mind-twisting, but it is hard to
judge its probability... Anyway, the action begins with the first
minutes of the film and tensions are maintained throughout until the
end. The reason for shooting was, however, revealed too soon, but the
person behind remained mysterious until the final scene. Performances
were great (Sheridan Smith as Becky, Jack O'Connell as Kurtis) or good
(the rest), but politically correct attempts to cover the cross-cut of
the society (different races-genders-ages) have become annoying as they
are used in all similar films.
Nevertheless, a good and compact film to those fond of thrillers in a limited time and space.
'Tower Block' is a good thriller. Its got an original premise, a good
cast but the whole motive for the sniper is a bit much, I wont spoil it
but it just wasn't believable. The film also had a few continuity
issues, not extremely major but very obvious. The film will also
probably only appeal to a British audience due to it's setting,
characters and dialogue.
Overall 'Tower Block' is an average thriller but it's still enjoyable due to it's interesting and original premise and the fairly good acting. So despite the issues and I'd still give it a go as I'd doubt you will be disappointed.
OK, it wasn't great and it wasn't bad, it was what you make of it. Leave all your "buts" at the door and just accept the silliness of what's ahead. If you want a short, shoot em up, barracking for the Disadvantaged people movie, then maybe see this movie. I applauded film makers having a go, coming up with new story lines, new concepts, however we have had this concept of "escaping the unknown" plenty of times, but not so many times have we seen it in this environment, especially in U.K films.. Give it a go and like I said, leave your "buts" at the door.... because you never know what's lurking behind it..
The "tower block" drama has become a sci-fi/horror subgenre in itself.
Known as high-rise apartment buildings in the West, they are especially
ubiquitous in Europe where they provided cheap postwar housing in
countries which didn't have the large tracts of land or economic and
political hubris that "allowed" us to build highways and expansive
suburbs on this side of the pond. In America, they were primarily
constructed in cities as public housing for low income residents
displaced by interstate highway construction and leveling of aging
dilapidated neighborhoods in the name of "urban renewal." Many of these
large projects were built in Eastern Europe by the Soviet regime and
have begun to fall apart and be abandoned, mirroring the actions of
their government overseers. But everywhere, including Western Bloc
countries like the UK, they've fallen into disrepair and are rife with
rampant crime and crippling poverty. This is fertile ground for writers
of mystery, sci-fi, and horror -- hence the proliferation of films set
in these often enigmatic structures.
"Tower Block," the first feature for UK co-directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson, focuses on the last remaining residents of the ironically-named Serenity House, a rundown building which is slated for demolition and has been abandoned save for its top floor. Eviction is on the horizon, no authorities are present to ensure anyone's safety, and a boy is brutally attacked with impunity. What happens next will challenge everyone's sanity and sense of moral judgment.
Nunn is an industry veteran, serving as First Assistant Director on two dozen titles prior to this directorial debut. Writer James Moran scripted "Severance," which I saw at my first Toronto Film Festival in 2006 after an auspicious Cannes debut. It was one of the biggest hits on the 2006-07 festival circuit. He also penned "Cockneys vs. Zombies" which played here at Fantastic Fest immediately following my "Tower Block" screening.
Every actor gets kudos for the movie's emotional punch, making it hard to single anyone out. But, as Kurtis, Jack O'Connell provides much of the heart and soul of the film, as well as its dry wit and comic relief. He was clearly the audience favorite here. Sheridan Smith, Jill Baker, Ralph Brown, Loui Batley, Russell Tovey, Steven Cree...all are affecting and outstanding.
Cinematographer Ben Moulden's appropriate reliance on hand-held camera with extreme closeups is crucial in capturing the dangerous confines in which the protagonists attempt to survive. Rapidfire action sequences are ratcheted up by the astute, sharp editing of Kate Coggins.
Lighting serves the narrative perfectly. The typical look of these buildings is cold, with a color palette that pushes the blue and pulls life out of the towers' public spaces, and "Tower Block" doesn't disappoint. Hallway lighting is dim and subdued with shadowy cold spots that often frame the actors in silhouette, almost giving the film a black and white appearance. Apartment interiors are warm with an amber glow, safe spaces where the innocent can find solace, at least for awhile.
Certain genres demand a soundtrack that helps build tension and enhance the desperation of the characters. Owen Morris' original score accomplishes this admirably. Sound design is spectacular and creates a character unto itself. Rarely have sound effects been used so effectively as a plot device in ways the viewer will discover.
This is a classic trapped group in peril piece, set in the narrow, claustrophobic hallways that define the titular tower block. As a familiar subgenre film, we have a general idea where the narrative will take us, so the key to the story lies in the ability of its ensemble cast to arouse audience empathy. Whether old or young, male or female, rough or sweet, mean or compassionate, including parents and children, victors and victims, and those who inevitably transform via dramatically satisfying arcs, there are sympathetic characters for every viewer. We can all relate to one or more of the residents, making palpable their fear and confusion. We become invested in who survives or not, and one thing I can guarantee: you will not be able to predict the outcome. In the end, that's why "Tower Block" exceeds expectations.
What makes the high-rise building fodder for freaky films? Perhaps it's simply the sight of these structures, haunting hulks of concrete and steel that beg the question, "What goes on behind those hundreds of windows?" "Tower Block's" answer? Don't go in. You may never get out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tower Block is a good low budget British thriller film starring
Sheridan Smith and upcoming star Jack O'Connell.
"Several months after witnessing a murder, residents of Tower Block 31 find themselves being picked off by a sniper" - As you can probably tell by this description, the film is shot entirely in one place. It is all mostly set in the top floor of a tower block, where around 10 residents are trying to escape after a mysterious sniper takes down members of their families. The surviving members all go out on to the hallway and the film really starts from here as they try to plan their escape.
The film managed to keep my attention the whole way through. The cast mostly gave good performances and as the film went on, characters seemed to suffer more brutal exits. All in all its a little predictable but still a good thriller film to pass the time (only 85 minutes).
Don't open the curtains
SEVERANCE scribe James Moran does it again with another sharp, bloody script containing a social message relevant to our times. 3 months after witnessing the death of a teenager, the residents of the top floor of a tower block awaiting demolition find their reluctance to talk to the Police coming back to haunt them when an unseen sniper starts picking off anyone who unwittingly goes near a window. Sheridan Smith (Gavin and Stacey) and Jack O'Connell (Skins) head a uniformly excellent cast in this taut British thriller that doesn't skimp on the blood or the depiction of the true cost of looking the other way when someone's in need and you could help them - but don't, because you're too scared or complacent to do so.
Derivative and largely formulaic thriller, but nevertheless one that remains suspenseful and compelling throughout the entire running time thanks to the raw & gritty atmosphere and a handful of extremely brutal shock-moments. Reminiscent to the other recent British flick "Attack the Block" in terms of tone & social setting, "Tower Block" takes place in a pauperized and crime-infested big city suburb where people abandoned all hope for prosperity long time ago already and desperately avoid every type of contact with fellow human beings. The film entirely takes place in a large apartment complex that is scheduled for destruction and only the residents of the top floor still live there. One Saturday morning, they are rudely awakened by a relentless psycho killer with a sniper rifle. He or she fires at everything that moves and placed booby-traps across the building. There's a obvious link with an unsolved murder committed in the block a few months earlier and now the asocial tenants are forced to rely on each other for survival. The biggest trumps for a film such as "Tower Block" are surprise and unpredictability. All the residents are equally insignificant, meaning that literally anyone of them could be next. And they could be next at any random and possible moment, too. Writers/directors duo James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson aptly play with these trumps, as the characters definitely don't die in the order you'd expect. Sniper murders can perhaps get a bit monotonous after a while, but there's enough diversity in killing methods and circumstances. Obviously there's quite a large number of holes and irrationality in the plot and the climax (as in: revelation of the sniper's identity) is weak and disappointing. The acting performances vary between adequate and amateurish, with good roles for tough blond gal Sheridan Smith and "Alien³" veteran Ralph Brown. In case you want to seek out more "serial sniper-killer" movies after this, I warmly recommended the almighty "Dirty Harry" but also the more obscure "Two-Minute Warning", "Targets" and "The Deadly Tower"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I will admit that I found the movie quite enjoyable; however, it's set in a country with some of the harshest gun control laws in the developed world, and the sniper is picking them off with unbelievable accuracy using a suppressed H&K Semi Automatic long range rifle. It's hardly aneurysm inducing surprise when the identity of the killer is revealed . I'm surprised Christopher fulford didn't get a larger role, given that he's a relatively big actor for a budget movie. As I said, though, the movie was good fun and the emotions and tensions between the characters were presented really well. I thought the old guy gets over his wife's death a little too quickly, though it's not ruining the movie with that. The choice of character for the killer, whilst obvious given the setting and modus operandi, was a refreshing change from the usual angry parent or rival drug gang killers that make up most British horror/thriller movies. Steven Cree is a little typecast in his role. Though, again, it's a great movie to enjoy, with a welcome plot twist, when you can't get to sleep at 4am with your headphones in.
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