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Merely a few years ago, film festivals were rampant with
home invasion. As escalation is the natural order of things, it makes an odd
sense we’re now living in the year of the high-rise siege (quite possibly
kicked into gear by 2011’s outstanding ATTACK THE BLOCK). THE RAID, CITADEL,
this month’s DREDD and the UK’s TOWER BLOCK all share themes centered around
these concrete monoliths that increasingly populate cities internationally.
Fortunately, each of the aforementioned counts real moments of intensity
amongst their running times, making this contemporary revival of a classic
storytelling device one worth keeping an eye on.
TOWER BLOCK, from directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson
and SEVERANCE writer James Moran, is easily the most grounded of the current
slate of siege (how relieving a subgenre trend can, and does, encompass varying
approaches). It finds the remaining residents of soon-to-be-destroyed Tower
Block 31 trapped within their halls as a sniper viciously attacks from outside
over a weekend. The film posits two possible reasons for the sudden bursts of
violence. One, the unsolved brutal murder of a young boy, which remains
unsolved in part because the residents in question refused to pipe up. Two, the
gentleman who’s buying the building as a condo investment wants these
stragglers out. Both scenarios speak to a current international climate which
allows TOWER BLOCK a little meat to chew on in the wake of its brisk,
to-the-point and admittedly narratively thin nature.
Moreover, this shift to high-rises, tenements, projects,
etc. would seem the directly an extension of economic downturn and increasing
atmosphere of frustration and explosive violence, which TOWER BLOCK deals a
plenty in. Tower Block 31’s inhabitants are all in various states of financial
flux, and as the prologue and general environment indicates, under constant
threat of random hostility. So it goes that the weekend’s inciting murder is a
fantastic moment that catches the audience, who’s just settled into the
ensemble, wholly off-guard. From there, it’s many of the same beats stories
such as these hit—in-fighting, speculating, action—but elevated by performances
from heroine Sheridan Smith and Jack O’Connell (who previously essayed a
violent youth in EDEN LAKE) and the rest of the cast, as well as directors Nunn
and Thompson impressively guiding a stylistic, but not fetishistic or
glamorizing, ever-roaming camera throughout their feature debut.
While Nunn and Thompson don’t seem interested in a
claustrophobic, trapping atmosphere, they’re commendably tough, often focusing
on the film’s hard hitting bits, from the bloody aftermaths, to the moral
ambiguity/vicious circle the film invokes. This includes a truly impressive
collaborative moment from the directors and O’Connell as they refuse to shy
away as he quietly and solemnly deals with both.
TOWER BLOCK never gets overtly political (it’s quite
to-the-point), but does paint a bit of a damning portrait of everyone involved,
including those who forgo action against injustice and those who seek mass
vengeance on a world that’s done them wrong. The ever-pressing pace and Owen
Morris’ neat, pulsing synth keep TOWER BLOCK’s fairly bleak outlook from ever getting
too dour, however (as does some of the more blunt dialogue familiar tropes).
What results is a dark, solid midnight thriller.
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