British films can be grim. We can be known for a spot of realism, a dash of depression, and a healthy pouring of poverty. But Britain is also known for horror; not Hollywood glossy horror but gritty, disturbing, dirty horror. Think The Wicker Man. Think 28 Days Later.
Closing this year’s celebration of horror, the London FrightFest was James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson’s dark and grisly sniper thriller Tower Block. Following the likes of Britain’s own sci-fi-horror-comedy mash up Attack the Block and Indonesia’s The Raid, not to mention Dredd 3D’s similar setting, it might seem Tower Block will be a hard sell for audiences potentially tiring of tower blocks and in search of more blocks being busted.
But it would be a shame if Tower Block fails to find an audience as the directorial duo’s film has much to recommend it, though it’s distinctly British cast and setting may limit the international appeal. Starring British stars from the small screen, the plot sees the inhabitants of a mostly empty tower block being terrorised by a sniper. The last of the residents live on the top floor and have yet to be relocated as the block is set for demolition. This grim and gutsy bunch include feisty, smart and resourceful Becky (Sheridan Smith from Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, but don’t hold that against her) local Jack the Lad Kurtis (Harry Brown and Eden Lake’s Jack O’Connell in a potentially breakout role) and other tenants including a struggling alcoholic and one of the world’s worst mothers.
Three months after this motley crew witness a murder right outside their doors, a sniper begins to pick them off one by one in their apartments. Once they get away from the windows and realise that the place is rendered inescapable by deadly booby traps and cut communications, the group must overcome their differences and find a way to survive, maybe even finding out who has got them targeted in the crosshairs.
The characters are a mixture of the well-written and the underdeveloped but this is hardly surprising with a film that has a body count this high. Sheridan Smith’s Becky makes a convincingly tough, fearless hero. She is backed up by the initially vile Kurtis who threatens to steal the show with O’Connell’s bordering on OTT performance being a highlight. But Ralph Brown and Russell Tovey also bring depth to their characters and audiences will find themselves hoping for some of them to make it out of the tower block alive.
Nunn and Thompson milk James Moran’s (Cockney’s vs Zombies) script for every last drop of tension and suspense and through a careful mix of characterisation and consistent killing, the film never fails to keep you guessing. Who is next to bite the bullet? Who will survive?
Owen Morris’ score is excellent and the claustrophobic cinematography keeps the characters in constant danger, adding to the sense of dread. But the climax is unfortunately fumbled with a last minute reveal being head-smackingly obvious and awkwardly over-written. The final fight for life could have been incredibly exciting but as it is, fails to ignite the fuse lit by much of the rest of the movie. The odd bit of dialogue between the characters does have shortcomings but generally the actors keep things believable.
Nevertheless this is a well made British thriller that’s worth watching if you like your body counts high and your strong female heroes. It’s a bloodthirsty film with characters that pop up, just as easily to drop down like holey flies and though it might have targeted horror fans at FrightFest, there is scope for a wider, thrill seeking audience to come under fire from this one. On this evidence, it seems like there may still be some life left in the old tower block setting yet.