Debutant directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson’s Tower Block rounded off FrightFest 13, and received its world premiere in the process. Written by Severance scripter James Moran, who is also known for his work on a catalogue of British TV series, including Doctor Who and Torchwood, Tower Block is probably best described as a TV movie writ large.
That sounds like a baser slight than intended, because the film is not quite as bad as all that. But with a slim story premise and acting that careens from the comically awful to the really rather impressive, Tower Block feels like a 60-minute TV episode of some British crime show with pretensions of big screen grandeur. Even so, Nunn and Thompson do manage to generate some nail-biting tension, predominantly in the first two acts, and Moran’s script is genuinely humorous in parts. There are also some great performances, most markedly from Jack O’Connell (Weekender), who captivates as a local thug unwillingly forced into uncharacteristic heroism. Sheridan Smith, best known for her role in popular sitcom Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, is also good as the lead, proving that she has a little more acting moxie than northern bint.
And yet, all the good is undone by the bad. The really rather simple story – the top floor residents of a soon to be demolished London tower block, ironically called Serenity House, are pinned down by a vengeful sniper – is riddled with glaring holes; important plot points are inexplicably shirked; and the characters are, on the whole, so unlikable you end up wishing the psychopath would just get on with it. And let’s not even go into the glaringly obvious twist. Overall, Tower Block is a frustrating watch, mainly because it’s clear there’s a great thriller screaming to get out, but the film-makers seem to have been wearing mufflers throughout.
Finally, whatever your view of the film, it’s impossible not to question why this has been included in the FrightFest line-up at all, let alone chosen as the closing film. It is a first and foremost a thriller, with only a smattering of gore (an episode of ER is more bloody) and a very tenuous stalk and slash motif (the stalk, without the slash – stalk and snipe, perhaps?). While the support of small budget British films is certainly something to be applauded, it’s still an odd choice. Moran’s other film at the festival, Cockneys Vs Zombies, co-written with Lucas Roche, would surely have been a better selection and, in truth, is probably the more entertaining film.