"There's nothing wrong with a familiar premise, as long as the filmmakers bring a little something new to the party," my grandmother used to say. Actually, that's a lie. My grandmother had terrible taste in movies, but I needed a new way to break out one of my favorite rules of genre filmmaking. Essentially it's this: "originality" is often overrated where simple action thrillers are concerned, which is why it's easy to enjoy the dark and intense UK import called Tower Block. There's plenty here you've seen before: the setting, the tone, the characters ... pretty much everything but the antagonist and his murderous methods are comfortably familiar matinee-movie components. And yet there's still a palpable energy and a legitimate sense of novelty to Tower Block that serves to give the flick a personality of its own.
Like most fun movies, Tower Block can be summed up in one juicy sentence: a massive apartment building is abandoned, aside from the tenants on the top floor, but just as those folks are preparing to move out, a hidden sniper makes his presence known by spraying bullets everywhere and killing a whole bunch of people. Once the flick finishes with its basic character set-ups and the premise you just read, co-directors James Nunn and Ronnie Thompson have a good time setting up Tower Block as sort of a slasher flick, only with an invisible slasher who uses a stunningly precise rifle instead of a machete. If the set-up and the characters are mostly pretty familiar, then at least the screenplay by James Moran (Severance) tosses a few little surprises into the middle section; just a few unexpected character moments and some effective plot contortions to keep the tension brewing.
There's also some creativity on display as the characters start to evolve; the lead anti-hero (Jack O'Connell) starts out as a hateful bully, but gradually displays some scoundrel-ish charm as the bodies start to pile up. Leading lady Sheridan Smith is quietly believable and "root-worthy" without ever having to act like an unrealistic ass-kicker. Several of the supporting players add a dash of color while avoiding the mysterious sniper's attention. (Russell Tovey and Ralph Brown are fun in small roles, and even the early "body count" characters display some wit before absorbing some bullets.) Strong assets in the realm of editing, scoring, and simple pacing are unexpected from a pair of first-time directors, but are certainly appreciated, and there's a welcome sense of "unpredictability" that's set up well in the early going and chugs along well into Act III. In other words, Tower Block makes it clear that any of the characters could get obliterated at any moment, which certainly helps to keep the viewer interested as the number of survivors starts to dwindle.
So while, on paper, Tower Block sounds like a sampler platter of Die Hard, Attack the Block, The Towering Inferno, and ... something involving snipers, the final product is a suitably slick and enjoyable creative action / suspense thriller / sorta-horror flick that delivers the goods with a grim grin, offers several worthwhile ingredients of its own, and knows when to wrap things up and then get to the big ending. You might not remember much of Tower Block a week later, but for 92 minutes it'll probably keep you stuck to the couch.
(Disclosure: screenwriter James Moran is a friend.)