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Tower Block
IMDB Rating: 5.9/10 from 3,456 votes
Release: 21 September 2012 (UK) /

Tower Block

Genre: Thriller
Director: James Nunn,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Several months after witnessing a murder, residents of Tower Block 31 find themselves being picked off by a sniper, pitting those lucky enough to be alive into a battle for survival.

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Critic Reviews


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 demolishing them.

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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