‘Tower Block’ Review
'Tower Block' is about the last residents of a condemned housing project in London, who are riding out the final days before a government eviction kicks them out of their homes. One seemingly random morning, they wake to find themselves under fire from an unseen sniper, picking off as many of them as he can. The survivors regroup in the hallway, and realize their predicament: though they're safe as long as they stay out of sight, whoever is firing at them has blocking their phones and internet. He's booby-trapped the exits. They have nowhere to go and they're sitting ducks.
The concept is eight ways from implausible -- but it is scary. In the real world, there are probably a hundred different ways these people could escape -- not to mention the fact that the best sniper in the world wouldn't be able to cover 10 different windows with perfect, deadly accuracy for more than 24 hours without ever missing, let alone pausing (anytime anyone opens a curtain anywhere on this floor, the sniper is instantly on them with a hail of bullets). Appreciating 'Tower Block' requires a serious suspension of disbelief -- but if you can do it, you're going to have a good time hanging out on the edge of your seat.
In classical survival horror fashion, the characters are a motley crew of assorted stereotypes. The de facto leader of the group is Becky (Sheridan Smith), a single woman of grit and conscience. Her primary nemesis is Kurtis (Jack O'Connell), who is the exact opposite: a local hooligan who intimidates his neighbors into paying him protection money. There's also Paul (Russell Tovey), an alcoholic struggling with addiction, and Neville (Ralph Brown) and his wife Violet (Jill Baker), a kindly older couple. Few, if any of the characters, shock us with their behavior, and they mostly die in roughly the order we expect them to. The ultimate revelation of the shooter's identity and his motivation isn't particularly mind-blowing if you're paying attention. There are few, if any, surprises.
There is, however, a ton of suspense. Even if our mysterious sniper makes the dude(s?) who shot JFK look like a blindfolded kid with a BB gun, directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson manage to turn him into a credibly terrifying offscreen threat. With his laser sight always lurking somewhere, every attempt to escape is loaded with tension. You care about these people -- at least the ones I bothered to name -- and watching their predicament fills you with increasing horror and dread. It shouldn't be this difficult to escape a lunatic with a rifle. But it's kind of fun that it is.
'Tower Block' had its international debut on September 21, and premiered in the US at Fantastic Fest 2012.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’