Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: TOWER BLOCK

Directed by: James Nunn, Ronnie Thompson
Written by: James Moran
Starring: Sheridan Smith, Jack O'Connell, Ralph Brown, and Russell Tovey 
Synopsis: After a young boy is beaten to death, the residents of a soon-to-be-demolished tower block are assaulted by an unknown sniper. 

I have always wanted to visit England and all of the United Kingdom. I find their accents awesome, and their completely different culture fascinating. One thing that I will not go near when I go over there are tower blocks or any high-rise apartment buildings. It seems that everything bad happens there. From last year's ATTACK THE BLOCK where wolf-gorilla motherfucker aliens invaded a London block to this movie, I'm convinced that nothing good happens in those places. As the description shows, we have a whole floor from the titular tower block being attacked by a sniper one random day. This is a harsh and brutal film that consistently subverts the genre expectations to the point of becoming one of the most interesting thrillers I've seen in a long time.

Just to set up the situation for this movie, it starts with a kid being chased by two shady thug characters. He eventually makes his way up to the block where seeks the help of any of the inhabitants. Given that they live in an environment of constant poverty and crime, none of them want to help out the kid. The only person that helps is a young woman, Becky (Smith) who ends up being beaten up. Eventually the two thugs killed the kid and what follows is a short police investigation since none of the inhabitants "saw" anything. Cue to one year later, where all of the residents are going through their normal routines of the day. Becky has a dude she just met over at her place, there's a couple trying to get their son to stop playing video games and do some physical activity, and we have the local thug, Kurtis, collecting "protection money" from the rest of the residents. Everyone is going about their business until they are woken up by the sound of bullets passing by and effectively killing over half of the residents on that floor. 

What follows is part survival thriller and part study of morality that wastes very little time with erroneous plot. The characters that remain are all part of a very usual cast of survivors that would be in any disaster or survival movie. Becky is the self-appointed leader in this situation; then there's Paul, a struggling alcoholic with a quiet demeanor; and finally Kurtis, the aforementioned local thug along with the rest of the survivors from the attack. They spend a majority of the time of the movie in the hallway of their floor. The way that the sniper is positioned, if anyone goes by any of the windows in their apartments, he can take them out almost immediately, and he does in various occasions in such a cold manner. 

Where the movie gets interesting to me is the exploration sociological and psychological themes. Kurtis, along with two of his other drug dealing pals, are usually the ones bullying everyone around, and since one of them is injured, all of the sudden the tables are turned on them and they are now cast-outs from this group of survivors. This is cemented when Neville, a retired military man, completely beats the shit out of Kurtis. Becky and Paul try to come up with various plans to escape. The sniper, however, has been planning this for a long time since every form of escape has been rigged to prevent them from escaping.

Reflecting on the movie now, I realize that the true "protagonist" is Kurtis; he is the one that brings attention to the issues that brought all of the them to this position in the first place. He calls out everyone for not helping out the young kid and lets everyone know that this is all of their collective faults. Of course, this is not what a lot people want to hear when your husband or wife have been shot through the head, but it's the truth. He also is the one person in this group that seems to take some of the tougher, less popular, and at least in the context of the movie, potentially necessary to help them out. 

The movie gets major kudos from me just on the fact that it subverts the expectations of the survivor sub genre. After watching so many disaster movies and horror movies you think you know who will live and who will die. That's not the case here, and going along with whatever "moral" lesson the sniper is trying to teach the inhabitants, the deaths are brutal, unrelenting and does not discriminate. 

If I had a complaint about the movie is that given the fact that even the residents of the block think that they are being punished for not helping out the kid. The movie has a real SAW II feel to it for the majority of the run time. And without getting into too many spoilers, the eventual reveal of the sniper's identity felt a little....lackluster. But that in no way deters from the fact that this is a damn fine entry into the survivor/thriller genre. 

TOWER BLOCK screens on Sunday, September 23rd at 9:20pm and on Thursday, September 27th at 12:15pm.

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