With the release of The Raid and Dredd in recent weeks, it seems that there is something about the high rise skyscraper as a setting for tense action films. Ever since The Towering Inferno and then Die Hard, the claustrophobia of a high-rise building as fascinated film makers.
Tower Block, a British independent film brings all the qualities associated with high-rise living, fear, crime, isolation, degradation and meshes them into a suspense-filled narrative. Three months after a young boy is brutally attacked and murdered on the top floor of a soon-to-be-demolished tower block, the last remaining few residents are terrorized by a sniper who mercilessly picks them off one by one. A relatively simple premise, the film creates extreme claustrophobia and intense and complicated relationships between the characters, all on a low budget. Given the nature of the characters and the way they are introduced, it becomes clear early on the way in which their fates will unfold, although with one or two pleasant (if brutal) surprises.
In some scenes and with some of the plot direction, the lack of budget is too obvious, however, the majority of the film has edge-of-the-seat clenching cinematography and creates an atmosphere of grittiness and dilapidation that is all too familiar in tower blocks across the country. The ˜introduction’ of the sniper is also one of the most impressively jolting scenes I have ever witnessed in a cinema “ the sound, visuals and context all combine for the film’s best scene.
The main character, Becky, excellently played by Sheridan Smith in her first major film role (she throws off the shackles of poor sitcom acting very well), is buoyed by an able (if unspectacular) supporting cast, the main standout of which is Kurtis, played by Jack O’Connell. As the tower block’s resident thug, his character arc is brutal and compelling, delivering some of the film’s best lines and the standout performance by far. The typical love-to-hate character, the film is worth the entrance fee for his performance alone. Unfortunately some of the other supporting characters are far too stereotypical, with some distinctly average performances. The usually impressive Ralph Brown is painfully wooden in some scenes, and the less said of Russell Tovey’s performance the better.
The simplicity of the film’s plot does make for some rather incredulous dialogue, some scenes for which you have to suspend any notion of common sense, and a final scene which lacks the punch that we have come to expect from skyscraper-based thrillers. However, what it does allow for some great character development, and a genuine connection with some (I stress some) of the terrified residents.
The brutality of the film speaks very clearly to the hopelessness and loneliness of tower block living, set against the backdrop of the relentless march of urban gentrification.