Starring British actress Sheridan Smith and following its World Premiere at this year’s Film4 FrightFest, James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson make their directorial debuts this week with low budget horror Tower Block (2012). Chief protagonist Becky (Smith) lives in a decaying London council block, which is doomed to be demolished in the very near future. Late one night, Becky sees two-masked hoodlums attacking a young man outside her flat. Heroically, she attempts to save the ill-fated teen, only to be assaulted in the process.
Three months after the event, Becky’s life seems to be settling back to normality until she and the residents of the rundown block suddenly find themselves the victims of a brutal sniper attack, with their apartment building also cut off from the outside world through a series of booby traps and signal jamming devices. Isolated and alone, the remaining survivors must band together if they are to have any hope of escaping their current predicament alive.
There seems to have been a genuine attempt by Nunn and Thompson to reinvigorate the survival horror genre in Tower Block with some topical urban gentrification subtext. This is, however, handled very poorly indeed. The film’s host of largely unlikeable caricatures – written by the usually reliable James Moran – are cliched and one-dimensional in the extreme, ranging from abusive single-mums to violent drug dealers and alcoholics. Almost all of the central characters, with the exception of Smith’s Becky, is out for themselves and only engage with each other by hurling abuse/threatening violence.
Fortunately for Moran, Tower Block is partially saved through its choice of cast-members. The talented Smith is aided with the presence of an enjoyably sarcastic Jack O’Connell as rough-and-ready thug Kurtis and the always affable Russell Tovey as despairing alcoholic Paul. Yet, as good as these performances are at times, they’re still ultimately let down by the script’s weak dialogue and poor characterisation. In addition, the movie’s denouement feels extremely unsatisfactory, requiring more than a few lines of clumsy dialogue to remind the audience (bearing in mind its short 90 minute runtime) as to just why the final twist is meant to be such a shock.
Disappointing from start to finish, Nunn and Thompson’s Tower Block is a dull affair that offers only a crude and ugly portrayal of London council block life. At very best, this cheap horror is a run-of-the-mill British exploitation flick with nothing new to say; at worst, it’s classist, deeply conservative and completely narrow-minded – sadly, it leans towards the latter more often than not.