Fantastic Fest 2012: ‘Tower Block’, another example of the exceedingly stale survivor genre
Directed by James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson
Written by James Moran
The residents of Serenity House are in dire straits. Nearly all of the tenants have been made to relocate due to the building’s impending demolition; all that remains is a small contingency of hold-outs on the top floor. To make matters worse, an unknown sniper has taken up in the block of high-rises and begun picking off the neighbours one by one.
As Tower Block begins, an anonymous man is attacked and severely beaten in the halls of Serenity House. He desperately cries for help, but the residents, either too afraid or indifferent to help, lock their doors and ignore his pleas, all save one, Becky, a no-nonsense single woman who rushes to his aid but is overcome and beaten to within an inch of her life.
Jump ahead several months and Becky’s wounds have largely healed though she still bears the psychological effects of the assault. Finally ready to move on with her life, she decides to start getting out there and ends up in a one night stand with a handsome young gentleman. The next morning, the newly minted couple share some awkward conversation over coffee before a bullet rockets through the unsuspecting man’s skull splattering any warm intentions he had all over the kitchen walls.
From there, Tower Block leads anticipatingly down a series of hallways and empty rooms, certain death around every corner. Unfortunately the danger isn’t as apparent to the players as one by one the survivors fall prey to predictably placed booby-traps and ominous open windows.
Becky’s neighbours and fellow survivors consist of a handful of genre archetypes and a mix of other characters from the lower end of the socio-economic ladder. There’s a household of unruly children and a resentful single mom in one, a young pregnant couple in another. Several other veteran actors round out the cast of newcomers. Among them is an older couple, the husband of which is portrayed with steely resolve by the television actor Ralph Brown. Then there is the dewy eyed twenty-something and potential love interest Paul (Russell Tovey of Being Human and The History Boys) and the less than likable Kurtis (Jack O’Connel of Harry Brown and Skins). Kurtis along with his lackeys, two dangerous looking “ethnic types,” tend to terrorize the remaining residents extorting what little money they have. However, once the shooting starts, Kurtis transitions into something of an unlikely hero, in turn becoming one of the films more complex characters and one of Tower Block’s highlights.
The gentrification subtext is commendable and a welcome addition, but the commentary is underserved in Tower Block by one-dimensional characterizations and a general lack of understanding of the subject by the filmmakers. The wardrobe choices are casual and pedestrian, hinting nothing of poverty. The apartments and set pieces are all well appointed, making it hard to believe the dregs of society inhabit the spaces. Aside from any mention in the dialogue regarding their miserable lot in life, the story could just have easily been located in a more middle class neighbourhood with the substitution of a few establishing shots.
Adding to the thematic problems is a razor thin plot that does almost nothing to dissuade the viewer from guessing the identity of the killer and a glaring issue concerning their means of escape. Namely “if a single sniper has you pinned down in a building why not sneak out the opposite side?” The plot hole is so daunting that even one of the characters points it out before curiously opting to repel down the side of the high-rise with a string of fire hoses instead, you know, the easy way out.
In the end, Tower Block serves as another example of the exceedingly stale survivor genre, with any attempts to inject some life into the formula falling flat. However, genre fans will likely respond well to the film’s relentless nature, and there are more than enough blood spattering head shots to keep the rest of us engaged.