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High-rise complexes have been the setting for a ton of movies of late. From Dredd to The Raid - Redemption to a neon-cloaked fight scene in Skyfall, much action has been staged above ground in the last few years. British import Tower Block is an interesting addition to the lineup. Three months after the residents of a crumbling apartment tower turn a blind eye to a brutal murder, a sniper traps them on the upper floor of the building and begins picking them off one by one. Directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson build tension by confining the actors to hallway outside their apartments. A step into the eye of a window means a shot from the sniper, who has blocked all the building's exits. With its roster of gritty characters Tower Block combines human drama with the outside terror to form an effectively straightforward thriller.
Two masked thugs chase a young man into Tower Block 31 before beating him to death. Most residents lock their doors and pretend not to hear the man's screams. Only Becky (Sheridan Smith) tries to help. Her only thank you is getting knocked out cold and later scolded by police for not doing more. Three months later, the complex is set for demolition so developers can build something nicer. The only remaining residents are those on the top floor: Becky; Amy (Loui Batley) and Ormond (Jordan Long), a young married couple; Carol (Julie Graham) and her gaming-addict son Daniel (Harry McEntire); neglectful single mom Jenny (Montserrat Lombard); Kurtis (Jack O'Connell), who charges the residents to protect them from thieves and other miscreants; drug dealers Gary (Nabil Elouahabi) and Mark (Kane Robinson); struggling alcoholic Paul (Russell Tovey); and senior couple Neville (Ralph Brown) and Violet (Jill Baker). A sniper's bullet cuts through the air one morning, starting an all out assault on the building's final occupants.
That Tower Block 31 is designated affordable housing provides the film a motley crew of characters, from young, struggling professionals like Becky to obnoxious hoods like Kurtis. As evidenced by their previous inaction, these people are used to keeping their heads down. Fear thy neighbor is a motto to live by, and no one lives in the building by choice. When the sniper begins shooting into the building, the un-neighborly characters discover all exits have been blocked. An outdoor staircase encased in glass allows the sniper an easy shot at anyone descending, and the elevator has been disabled. Jenny discovers graffiti on an interior wall that resembles the Three Wise Monkeys and realizes the sniper is taunting the residents for neither seeing nor hearing nor speaking of the earlier murder.
Although some of the dialogue and sensibilities are distinctly British, Tower Block is universally frightening. This could be any building in any city where people live anonymously. The interplay between these characters is believable, and James Moran's script says a lot very quickly. Becky is the film's heroine, and Smith is a tough, capable lead. She is joined by Kurtis, who has a change of heart after Becky finally puts him in his place. Nunn and Thompson shoot in the cramped hallway, constantly reminding the audience of the danger that lurks in the adjacent apartments. Tower Block is briskly paced and the tension is constant. Some of the murders are quite shocking, and even the film's likeable characters are subject to execution. The film's simplicity is its best asset, and the mix of raw tension and character drama leaves Tower Block a briskly effective thriller.
The 2.35:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from Shout Factory is very good, and the tightly shot film results in many nicely detailed close-up shots. The dingy, shadowy hallway of Tower 31 is presented with good clarity, and detail is never crushed in dark corners. The film sports a desaturated color scheme, but skin tones and textures are accurate. There is no trace of digital manipulation.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is effective, with excellent clarity and range. Much of the film is dialogue driven, and the track handles the frequent overlapping conversations and directional dialogue with ease. The sound design is accomplished, and the roving voices and ambient effects that make their way into the rear speakers allow viewers a front-row seat to the action. The sharp blows of the sniper's gun ricochet through the surrounds, and the subwoofer supports the action beats. The pounding score from Owen Morris is weighty and nicely balanced with dialogue and effects.
Extras include a Commentary with Writer James Moran, a couple of brief Original Behind-the-Scenes Interviews (6:21/SD) and the film's Trailer (1:40/HD).
The high-rise complex has enjoyed a filmed renaissance of late and British import Tower Block effectively uses such a setting to trap its diverse cast. After the residents of an affordable-living tower turn a blind eye to an act of violence, they face the rage of a hidden sniper, who begins shooting at them through the windows of the building. Tower Block effectively mixes raw tension with character drama and is a simple, effective thriller. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.