Home Video Hovel: Tower Block, by Sarah Brinks
“What would you do if someone was outside your home with a sniper rifle?” That was the question writer James Moran asked himself when he wrote Tower Block. Not to be confused with the Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy vehicle, Tower Block is about a group of people living in a tower estate in England trying to survive a horrible ordeal with a sniper. Tower Block falls into a genre I find particularly fascinating, the “group survival” genre. I can’t explain it but the way the social niceties break down when a group of strangers is thrown together into a survival situation is fascinating to me. Tower Block requires a little of suspension of disbelief but overall is a very satisfying thriller.
Tower Block starts with a young man running from two masked thugs. He runs into a tower estate to the top floor (the rest of the floors have been emptied of tenants). Banging on doors and pleading for help the young man is set upon by the thugs. No one comes to his aid but one young woman calls the police. Finally she runs out to try and help him and receives a nasty beating of her own for her efforts. The young man is beaten to death. When the police come around to question the tower tenants they all refuse to give information for fear of retribution. Some month later as the tenants are starting their mornings a sniper starts shooting at anyone they can see through the windows. The surviving tenants band together and have to find a way out of the tower to safety. This is complicated by the fact that cellular service and the internet are down and the estate is a quarter mile from anyone else.
What really makes Tower Block work as a thriller is that is doesn’t pull any punches. There are moments of shocking violence throughout the film and no one in the film is safe, that includes women and children. The fact that anyone could go at any moment keeps the film interesting and is a hallmark of British cinema. Also the characters in the film are portrayed very realistically. If you were trapped in a tower estate with a sniper outside you would need to try anything to survive no matter how silly or impossible it seems. Some ideas are more successful then others. What is additionally difficult is that the characters in the film are mostly strangers. Neighbors in dangerous and violence-prone housing are not very close to each other. Some of them are able to keep cool heads while others panic. Some of the neighbors are not like by the other tenants such as the stoners who live at the end of the hall and the mother who is verbally abusive to her kids all the time.
Directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson work well to use the landscape of the tower in effective and realistic ways. They also maintain the tension throughout the film without it feeling forced or false. They break the tension in the right moments using the characters and situation itself for well-timed levity. The actors in the film are all believable in their roles. The most famous cast member is Russel Tovey (from the UK’s Being Human, Sherlock, and Doctor Who) as Paul the alcoholic. But the two stand out performances in the film are Sheridan Smith as Becky and Jack O’Connell as Kurtis. Smith is the lead of the film and becomes a believable bad ass. She keeps a cool head and is a natural leader to the group of neighbors. Kurtis is the neighborhood bully charging the remaining tenants every month so he doesn’t break in to their apartments. Kurtis is also the comic relief of the film. However he treads that fine line where the authenticity of his character is what makes him funny not just mugging to the camera and saying witty dialogue. Kurtis looks out for himself and no one else. Sometime he has to help the group to help himself but he is never selfless. He is also the most consistent character in the film.
The Blu-ray of the film is crisp and clean looking. The special features include a commentary with the writer and behind the scene interviews with the cast and writer. At a quick 88 minute run time Tower Block is a fun thriller the keeps up the pace and maintains the tension. This is the first feature film that Nunn and Thompson have directed and it was a fun first effort. If you are like me and like to watch strangers try and survive a difficult situation and each other then Tower Block is a must see.