Reviewed by Patrick Cooper
Sometimes the simplest plots can be the most effective. Who needs convoluted stories and intricate details when you have a sniper on the roof. That’s the rhetorical question posited by Tower Block, a British thriller that pits a group of squabbling low-income residents against a phantom gunman. The residents are trapped on the top floor of their building and every attempt to escape sees another one of them blown away. And for chrissakes stay away from the windows!
As writer James Moran explains in the Blu-ray commentary, he wasn’t interested in making a “whodunnit” mystery. He was more interested in the audience guessing who would survive. This was accomplished to a point. Despite laser sights and heaps of carnage, Tower Block never feels all that suspenseful. It’s easy to predict who’s gonna get popped off next since they keep putting themselves in the line of sight.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t one helluva ride though. Sometimes it’s not about how the story goes from point A to point B – it’s everything in between. Tower Block is a great example of this. It’s got enough interesting characters caught in toxic situations and interesting relationships that it’s always engaging despite its predictability. So while I don’t think many folks will be clenching their assholes in suspense, they will be captivating by the moral drama unraveling on screen.
And of course I was trying to figure out the whole time who the hell was shooting at them! With this scenario, it’s impossible not to be watched as a “whodunnit.” The culprit isn’t revealed until the final minutes of the film and once the curtain is pulled back, it’s goddamn ridiculous. It defies explanation. But at this point, it doesn’t matter that the sniper’s identity seems like a bad joke. Screw it, I enjoyed the ride.
Tower Block begins textually, explaining what a tower block is. Essentially they’re like American tenement housing designed for lower income families. Over time the buildings (and in a way, the residents) deteriorated under capitalist infrastructures and these concrete monoliths are being demolished to make way for urban renovations. When the film kicks in, a young man is being beaten to death in a tower block hallway. His screams for help go ignored – the residents react by triple-locking their doors and shutting out the lights.
One woman does intervene and winds up getting her head punched in. Her name is Becky (Sheridan Smith) and when the police later interview her, she’s chided for not helping more. Life goes on in the building until three months later, when Becky’s boyfriend gets his head blown off at the breakfast table. Other residents on the top floor (the only floor that remains occupied) are under fire as well. The body count following that first volley of sniper rounds is shockingly high.
The survivors convene in the hallway (where there are no windows), unable to call for aid due to poor cellphone service (of course). The group has a rough time working together, since they’ve been living on the same floor all this time and don’t really know each other – which is a fairly accurate depiction of apartment living in a city. While their bitching, one of them will occasionally be picked off by the sniper, who has superhuman aim. The guy can apparently see people through walls and knows where to shoot the instant someone walks into a room. There are like 20 windows facing him and he’s always sighting the correct one!
After an entire night of this bullshit, the survivors devise some silly, desperate escape plans. One involves tying the fires houses together and scaling down the side of the 20+ story building. It’s absurd! But they try it anyway and you can probably guess how that goes. As ridiculous as their plans are, Tower Block does a great job developing its characters and their relationships. It excels in this department, in fact. This unbelievable situation thrusts them together, puts them at each other’s throats, challenges them morally, and ultimately unifies them against the phantom deadeye.
So while Tower Block is a little weak as a suspense or thriller film, it makes a compelling moral drama concerned with indifference, urban living, and guilt. The best moments are when the bullets stop and the characters are left together to work it out. Just try not to laugh too hard when the sniper’s identity is revealed.
Tower Block is presented by Shout! Factory in 1080p HD in 2/35″1 widescreen. The majority of the film is all cyan and copper colored, resulting in a heavily desaturated look. While none of the colors particularly pop, there is nice detail and blacks as thick as the abyss. The look matches the bleak film nicely.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is terrific and pleasantly immersive in the tight confines of the tower block. The initial sniper shootings are a definite audio highlight.
Audio Commentary with Writer James Moran: this lively commentary has Moran discussing what he hoped to achieve with the film, who he originally planned for the killer to be, and how he attempted to inject realism into the story. Fans will definitely want to nestle up to this entertaining track.
Behind the Scenes Interviews: this brief feature contains cast and crew talking about the film. Nothing particularly juicy here, but what the hell, it’s short.