Fantastic Fest Review: Tower Block


Tower Block has the makings of an highly successful, intense ride, but it’s a surprisingly restrained, totally serviceable, pulpy revenge thriller.  

This UK offering from directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson was scripted by James Moran, whose feature debut was the clever, violent and often hilarious Severance.  Here, Moran is meddling in more serious-minded territory, still, his penchant for razor-sharp characters and the pitch black comedy that he brought to Severance is on display in Tower Block helping mask the film’s flaws.

Set against the backdrop of Serenity House – the film’s eponymous location – Moran’s story begins to turn the screw when the remaining tenants of the building find themselves being picked off by a sniper.  

This stroke of bad luck takes place one year after these residents refused to help a fellow neighbor when he was being beaten to death.  Those who survive the initial sniper assault – which occurs in a properly unexpected fashion – flee their apartments, out of view from the anonymous marksman’s scope.  Sheridan Smith’s Becky takes leadership, to a degree, and all together the group attempts to make sense of what is happening and try to escape the building.  Alas, that proves to be easier said than done because the killer has planted a few traps.

Bickering neighbors, flying bullets, a pervasive threat from the outside and an unpredictable threat from within – there’s a lot to Tower Block’s equation that could easily amount to a knock-out nail-biter.  There’s almost a breezy nature to the way the story is told, however.  It lacks palpable anxiety.  The screw turns, but not tight enough.  Part of the problem is that the story requires the tenants to easily escape the sniper’s view by simply running into their floor’s main hallway.  Problem solved.  No one can get shot.

Moran counters this and keeps the viewer’s invested interest level high by playing the characters against one another.  There’s the bitchy single mother who smacks her kids around and will push your buttons and the friendly older couple who probably don’t deserve the scenario they’ve been put in, but it is Jack O’Connell’s turn as tough guy Kurtis that keeps you really engaged.  Still, the characters and their mild annoyances with one another only carry the film so far.  

Tower Block needed an injection of something bigger to occur as much of the action is rather tepid.  Even on a visual level, the sniper attacks lack the punch they need.  And once the story is past the first introduction of one of the building’s traps there are few surprises to be had.  Even the third act’s grand revelation is – while not entirely predictable – very pedestrian.

There’s a relentless nature to Tower Block’s attitude that genre fans will appreciate, though.  Moran clearly had fun crafting a few of the film’s deaths, even if he forgot to add a needed dramatic scene or two where his characters reflected on the retribution they faced because they failed to help a neighbor in need one year prior.

From the second the first bullet is introduced flying through the side of someone’s skull to the violent finish, Tower Block manages to keep you absorbed, however.  You just might not be sitting on the edge of your seat as you had hoped.

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