I wasn’t a big fan of James Moran’s previous film COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES, which I thought was lacking in ambition and, crucially, any decent laughs and scares; it’s nice to report then that his next film, the tonally very different TOWER BLOCK, is a taut, highly effective thriller that is well worth checking out while it puts a welcome appearance in UK cinemas.
Not that TOWER BLOCK is any more ambitious than COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES – it’s as straight-up genre piece as you're going to see. But crucially, it also features excellent performances, that bring to life well-drawn, engaging characters; a wealth of funny, quotable dialogue; and is topped off with unfussy, muscular direction from first time directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson. As we see time and time again, making genre films that are actually good can prove just as difficult to filmmakers as the making of so-called ‘serious’ films, and TOWER BLOCK counts as one of the most enjoyable B-movies to come from these shores for a for a while.
Set in a largely abandoned - yes - tower block, the few remaining tenants, including an angry, dissatisfied young woman (Sheridan Smith), a psychotic bully (Jack O’Connell), and a stoical husband and wife (Ralph Brown and Jill Taylor), suddenly find themselves under siege from a murderous sniper. Trapped within the building, this ragtag bunch of misfits attempt to find a way out as the ruthless assassin begins to pick them off one-by-one.
TOWER BLOCK establishes its tense atmosphere early and doesn't let up for a terse, involving 90 minutes. It's cleve enough to nick its cues from good sources – John Carpenter, DIE HARD, CUBE, a bit of SPEED, even PHONE BOOTH – and Nunn and Thompson do a good job of conveying the claustrophobia and oppressiveness of the tower block with some astute visual choices.
What really elevates TOWER BLOCK above the level of what is essentially a nuts-and-bolts thriller – and the story does ultimately run out of steam before its conclusion - are the performances: it’s always great to see Ralph Brown in anything, Smith takes advantage of a properly written female role and provides one of the more effective Ripley-substitutes I’ve seen in a while, and Jack O'Connell is just fantastic as the twitching, insane anti-hero Kurtis, running away with every scene he’s in.
Lean, funny and shocking, this taut action thriller is a lot of fun, and bodes well for the future of low-budget British genre film.