Shout! Factory // 2012 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // July 11th, 2013
Twelve tenants. One sniper. No escape.
Sometimes keeping it simple really does work.
A young man is beaten and murdered on the top floor of Serenity House, an apartment tower in London that awaits demolition. Fearing retribution from the criminals in the area, the few remaining residents keep quiet when the police come looking for answers. Three months later, the building's last twelve tenants wake up on a Saturday morning to find all of the exits blocked, their cell phone reception gone, and a sniper waiting to kill them one by one.
The simplicity of Tower Block ends up being its greatest virtue: here's twelve normal people, here's a sniper shooting them. The movie isn't coy about giving hints who the killer is; in fact, it's not too hard to figure it out in the first 20 minutes. But that's not the point. Tower Block works as a low budget thriller because we know the bullets are coming, but we don't know when or who they're going to hit. And just with that, the movie works.
Tower Block's ensemble of tenants thankfully sidesteps the "diverse stereotypes!" problem, for the most part, by using realistic characters. Most of the cast play the sort of people who would actually live in an average apartment block: normal gal Becky (Sheridan Smith, Grownups); Kurtis (Jack O'Connell, This is England, a small-time criminal running a protection racket on the tenants; and retired military officer Neville (Ralph Brown, Withnail and I), who thankfully isn't some ex-special forces killing machine in hiding. There are also young families, middle-aged couples, and a bunch of regular people. Tower Block doesn't spend too much time giving these characters depth, but we're given enough background to at least worry for them when the bullets start flying.
The film -- written by James Moran (Severance) and co-directed by first-time directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson -- moves at a fast clip and makes good use of its limitations. It's certainly not perfect; the dialogue, while fairly believable, often ends up with three or more people screaming incomprehensibly at each other. Sure, that would probably happen, but it's agonizing to sit through. The narrative also makes a few interesting turns that result in an ending that's just too neat. Still, it's a gripping low-budget film that also doesn't try to pander to a non-British audience.
Shout! Factory gives this British import a nice US release. The non-anamorphic 1.85:1 (1080p) transfer looks great, especially considering that most of the movie takes place in a dingy, poorly lit hallway. The picture is uniformly sharp, and there's a lot of nuance between the various dark tones that fill each scene. (The handful of exterior shots are also striking.) The DTS-HD Master Audio track is good, too; bullet impacts are shockingly loud, and the overlapping dialogue (shouting, really) is balanced nicely. The extras on the Tower Block Blu-ray aren't bad, but also aren't plentiful: a nice commentary with James Moran, a series of short cast interviews, and the film's theatrical trailer.
Tower Block is nothing new, but it's still a simple and tense low-budget thriller.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R