Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: Despite Misfires, Sniper Thriller TOWER BLOCK Hits Its Mark

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Nothing good ever happens on the block. It might not be small-scale alien invasions of futuristic battles with scarred lady drug kingpins, but if you live on a block, something terrible is bound to happen to you. Consider the film up for consideration today.

We're informed by the opening titles of first-time feature directors' Ronnie Thompson and James Nunn's Tower Block that after World War II, these grim high rises attracted tenants for their spectacular views, but in recent years have become breeding grounds for violent crime. Most of the tenants have fled for presumably safer places to live, but Tower 31 still has some holdouts on its top floor for reasons that remain muddy (one of the minor strikes against James Moran's screenplay).

We see the constant threat of violence the remaining residents live under firsthand as resident Becky witnesses and tries to prevent the beating of a 15-year-old boy being pursued by a pair of masked assailants. It doesn't go well for Becky (Sheridan Smith), and worse for the boy who we find out later is murdered. In the subsequent investigation, we see how tightly fear has a grip on the people of Tower 31, as even Becky is unwilling to talk to the frustrated police for fear that the masked killers might come back to finish the job.

If the random violence wasn't bad enough, one morning, Becky's block comes under assault from some very specific violence from a motivated, well-organized sniper who begins to target the building three months after her assault. The black gloved killer hides in his perch, armed with a high-powered rifle with plans and contingencies to keep the diverse remaining tenants of Tower 31 from making their escape.

Nunn and Thompson make the most of their cramped surroundings of their single-floor setting to isolate their characters while taking advantage of the tensions between the average working folk and a small contingent of criminals of just plain unpleasant types. Among those is Kurtis (Jack O'Connell), a feral young man who would normally be extorting these people for 20 quid a day in protection money but finds himself joining them in trying to work out the angles for how to survive and get the better of their assailant.

The shock of the first assault isn't quite sustained throughout, but if the idea of someone deliberately, silently, and with skill targeting you and your neighbors isn't unnerving stuff, I don't know what is. Later developments increase the body count by allowing the characters to act in irrational ways that you and I wouldn't (some of it down to whether or not the tenants could ever believe the killer is acting in any way rationally). Likewise, Kurtis goes through something like a moral evolution that's not really earned based on how the character is portrayed early on--but it gets us there.

These flaws aside, the frantic, tense, and vicious Tower Block puts us beside the steadily dwindling number of tenants and invites with shock and morbid curiosity to ask, "who's next?"

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