Tower Block: Berlin Film Review

The tenants check out for good in this taut U.K. horror-thriller.

In James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson's directorial debut, a psycho sniper targets tenants of a condemned London high-rise.

The price of rent has never seemed so steep as in Tower Block, a tightly wound U.K. horror-thriller in which the tenants of a condemned high-rise get gruesomely picked off by a psycho sniper. Making up for its high concept/low brainpower scenario with some nifty action sequences and energetic performances, this rather promising directorial debut from duo James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson should foreclose at genre fests and ancillary outings worldwide.

In what would provide a decent double billing with last year’s cult and critical darling Attack the Block, the script by genre junky James Moran (Severance) keeps events confined to a rundown London apartment building, whose handful of residents are the final holdouts before the wrecking ball hits.

Among them is a strong-willed single blond, Becky (Sheridan Smith, Hysteria), who in the film’s opening scene witnesses a brutal beating outside her door, only to chicken out when the cops come around asking questions. Cut to three months later where, after a promising one-night stand, she shares a quiet morning coffee with her new beau until – blam! – his brains are blown out across the table cloth.

Several reels of bloody chaos ensue as Becky and her neighbors try to avoid permanent eviction by an unknown, incredibly gifted marksman armed with a state of the art one-man arsenal. These early scenes are among the film’s most hair-raising, and cinematographer Ben Moulden captures them with gripping widescreen imagery that showcases the dingy, working-class decors of production designer Kajsa Soderlund.

As the lodgers check out one by one, Becky and the other survivors, including hot-headed drug pusher, Kurtis (Jack O’Connell, Eden Lake), hope to escape while solving the mystery behind the murder spree. If the ultimate answer is the sort of cop-out that may leave certain viewers feeling cheated, the characters are just enough above stock status, and the MacGuffin just enough above schlock status, to keep things moving swiftly along until the final shootout.

Nunn and Thompson show a knack here for quick and dirty violence, tossing out a few surprises and making the most of a single set and several buckets of corn syrup, although things never turn nauseatingly gory.

Performances are all workable, with O’Connell the standout as a snide gangsta who eventually rallies us to his side.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Market)
Production companies: Tea Shop & Film Company, in association with Creativity Media
Cast: Sheridan Smith, Jack O’Connell, Ralph Brown, Russell Tovey, Jamie Thomas King, Julie Graham
Directors: James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson
Screenwriter: James Moran
Producers: James Harris, Mark Lane, Ronnie Thompson
Director of photography: Ben Moulden
Production designer: Kajsa Soderlund
Music: Owen Morris
Costume designer: Matthew Price
Editor: Kate Coggins