Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Tower Block (2012)

Half kitchen sink, social commentary drama and half action thriller, Tower Block has a concept  that immediately pulled me in. A ragtag, mixed bag of top floor residents living in a grim, crime ridden and soon to be demolished inner city tower block, wake up one morning to find themselves under attack by a ruthless assassin with a high velocity assault rifle. As the unseen attacker picks off the residents one by one, the motivation behind this deadly onslaught is initially unclear, but slowly the disparate band led by plucky Sheridan Smith realise it may have something to do with the 19 year old boy who was beaten to death in their block several months earlier, a crime for which no witnesses came forward. 

Including the poster for Screwed (the previous film of co-director Ronnie Thompson's novel, an alleged memoir of his prison warder days) however may have seemed like a cheeky, harmless in-joke during production, but only served to remind this viewer of the poor track record the filmmakers have. It was only a brief moment but it pulled me out of the proceedings somewhat, in much the same way that some subsequent CGI and green screen effects would also do.

But this is a much better affair than Screwed, a tense and atmospheric film that knows - much like John Carpenter, a past master at this kind of thing - keeping it simple is the key ingredient. It's just a shame that the characters in our motley band aren't very well sketched out in James Moran's script; if it wasn't for the likes of Smith (slowly and steadily securing national treasure status with each role and diverting nicely with some proactive Bruce Willis style moments!) my mate Ralph Brown (seriously, we used to exchange emails donchaknow), Jill Baker, Christopher Fulford, Russell Tovey, Julie Graham and, best of all, Jack O'Connell as the scumbag who has been collecting protection money from the residents and now finds out that he does have to protect them in some way, the film would completely fail in its characterisation. You can almost forgive the casting director for hiring some actors who are clearly a little older than the characters they are designated to play (Smith and her old Love Soup costar Monserrat Lombard, virtually unrecognisable here as a useless, abusive young mother and Social Services magnet, Tovey and Nabil Elouahabi) when the talent is clearly there and much better than the script requires. 

The levels of tension are quite high throughout, though experienced viewers of this kind of survivalist cinema will find few surprises in store and the mysterious assailant's ID is pretty obvious too and the denouement quite risible and Scooby Doo-ish, but I personally would have preferred just a smidgen more bite to the social commentary as it would at least have helped to imbue some characters with depth as well as give the film some statement beyond the thrills and chills and add more oomph to the message of looking the other way.

Tower Block remains nevertheless an interesting and effective slice of British urban chiller and far better than Last Passenger the last film I saw from this niche genre. 

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