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Terry Malloy Discusses The Rise Of The Tenement Block Film, Including TOWER BLOCK And DREDD, From Fantastic Fest 2012!




What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.


A lot of digital ink has already been spilled over Fantastic Fest 2012 and since I am writing post-fest, I wanted to discuss a couple of the films I saw through a different lens, just to spice things up a little bit. 


Every so often, certain subgenres get particularly hot and a slew of films will release that revolve around similar elements. I’m not just talking about the dueling asteroid movies or dueling volcano movies of the big studios back in the 1990s. I’m talking about full on subgenres with multiple entries, all trying to capitalize on a trend. Recent examples would be the glut of young adult fiction we have seen being adapted into films after the success of the HARRY POTTER franchise. Or even more obviously, the zombie craze that has had us in its grip for a few years now and may (or may not) be slowing down of late. 


But who would have ever predicted a subgenre of films, releasing in rapid succession that are all set in and around tenement high rise buildings? If there were one or two films set against the backdrop of “the block”, one could easily write it off as happenstance. But it is a little harder when you think about the fact that no less than 8 high rise / tower-themed films have come out in just the past few years! (And let me know if I’ve missed any, which I probably have.) Two of those films were entries in this year’s Fantastic Fest, and 4 of them are specifically set in tenement blocks in the UK. 


What films am I talking about? Here is the quick list:


GOMORRA (2008), HARRY BROWN (2009), ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011), TOWER HEIST (2011) (This is the only film on the list I haven’t seen, but in many respects it seems to fit the list. Am I wrong, folks who have seen it?), THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011), CITADEL (2012), DREDD 3D (2012), and TOWER BLOCK (2012).


I’ve got a couple of ideas as to why we are seeing this backdrop move into the foreground. For one thing, times are tough around the world these days. The economy has people on edge and tenement blocks shine a light on the reality of not only poverty, but the governments’ unsuccessful attempts to combat poverty. The projects, the blocks, the tenements; all are intended to be cheap, affordable housing subsidized by the government. But as we know from real life experiences, and from our movies, the projects are often breeding grounds for crime. In turn, those from the outside tend to fear and avoid them. 


And so the tenements become symbols for things beyond inexpensive housing. They become home to rough and tumble young kids, struggling families, and yes, maybe even some criminals, or just folks who are willing to earn a few dollars outside of the law. 


It seems logical, then, that story tellers and film makers are taking the projects and using the rich symbolism they provide to add a layer to their stories. 


From a filmmaking perspective, the blocks in the UK also offer some pretty stunning visuals. The tower blocks are hulking, concrete monoliths that provide their own character just by turning a camera on them. Not to mention that stories set in isolated tenements also give filmmakers a way to isolate events and make their stories more airtight and insular. The majority of the films on my quick list are also low budget films, so it makes sense that filmmakers would use a very manageable and controlled location for their laser-focused stories.


I’m going to quickly dive into a few thoughts on each film and focus on their tenement settings. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on this rising trend in the talkbacks. 




GOMORRA (2008) 


I remember very little about this film because I haven’t seen it in several years. But the movie transpires in an absolutely filthy Italian housing project that was visually shocking at the time. Like in ATTACK THE BLOCK, our main characters in GOMORRA are the children who live in the projects. In this story, our main characters aspire to be a part of the gangs that operate all around them. Children’s playgrounds are gangsters stomping grounds, and the two groups are bound to collide.






A vigilante story set in a London project and starring an aged Michael Caine as Harry Brown. Caine’s Brown is a war veteran and all around slow burning badass. There is a particular tunnel which tenement residents avoid using in this project due to all the criminal activity that goes on there. HARRY BROWN is kind of a small scale vigilante story in that the focus is very much on this man and the cleaning up of his little plot of turf. But as with most vigilante stories, things here are very personal indeed. And when Brown starts taking justice into his own hands, the moral ambiguity is just getting started.






My guess is that ATTACK THE BLOCK is one of the biggest reasons subsequent films on this list were set where they were. As aliens land near a block in London, a small gang of street teens become reluctant heroes, taking on the aliens on their home turf. ATTACK THE BLOCK is my favorite film in this list in part because of the tenement dynamic I’ve been talking about. Here, the block is these young teens’ playground. They are able to outsmart the aliens and successfully fight them off precisely because of the toughness that their upbringing has saddled them with, and their knowledge of every crevice of their home. Director Joe Cornish used the tenement setting to create inventive action and meaningful drama. Despite the rough nature of life on the block, Cornish’s film turns preconceptions on their heads and gives us heroes to root for who come from the places many of us fear to go. 






Again, I haven’t seen it. But the premise appears to be as economically motivated as some of the stories set in poorer tenements. Here, you’ve got some scorned building employees, led by Ben Stiller, exacting revenge on the Bernie Madoff-like penthouse dweller who has swindled all of their money. Although this is a comedic heist film, it is very clearly set in a high rise, and there is an heir of economic unrest beneath the plot summary. Stiller’s rag tag team sounds a lot like the 99% to me, and if Bernie Madoff wasn’t the 1%, I don’t know who was.






An absolutely fantastic action film, THE RAID is an Indonesian film which pits a team of elite cops against a drug lord living in the top floor of a crumbling old tower. 



My sense, with this film, is that the setting had more to do with the ability to create a claustrophobic atmosphere for our heroes to be trapped in as they battle for their lives against an insane drug lord. Many facets of tenement life come into play in this film, though. The setting of THE RAID is smart to create both great action and introduce some important drama to the proceedings with the residents of the building who range from innocent bystanders to addicts to full on villains.




CITADEL (2012)


CITADEL is probably the only straight up horror film on this list. Shot in Ireland, CITADEL is set in a condemned tower block that veers into fantasy and post apocalyptic territory. Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) lost his wife and becomes increasingly unable to care for their baby daughter as he is terrified to leave the house. Hooded, child-like creatures are introduced to this tale to terrify the audience and the protagonist. Here, tenements are places of great horror, where everything happening outside your doors is terrifying, and the only way to stay safe is to hole up in isolation. Perhaps by breaking with reality, CITADEL has the most to say about the world’s perception of project housing. 




DREDD 3D (2012)


This time our setting is in a futuristic mega-tower, but many of the settings’ tropes have not changed. Sure, DREDD is a completely awesome sci-fi, comic, action film. But regardless of the drug being dealt, or the ravaged world outside of Mega City One, Peach Tree Towers feels JUST like the project housing of many of the other films on this list.




In DREDD there are more residents crammed into a larger building, but much like THE RAID, you have a mixture of residents who are part of the gang trying to kill our heroes, but also many innocent residents just trying to survive. As Judge Dredd seeks to end the reign of drug dealer Ma-Ma, we see that many of today’s vices and societal issues have only evolved in this overcrowded and hellish future.






The top floor of the Tower Block in London is the only inhabited floor that remains. The tenants are holding out from moving and their landlord can’t wait to get them moved out so he can sell the land. But when a sniper entraps them and starts shooting up the block, Becky (Sheridan Smith) assumes leadership over the shrinking group of residents and tries to outwit their attacker.



TOWER BLOCK is a sniper-as-slasher film that sees our cast picked off one by one by an unseen assailant. It is also an airtight thriller that is a lot of fun while also introducing the audience to a varied cast of characters who all have their reasons for living in a tenement block like this one, no matter what walk of life they hail from. 



Interestingly, I actually like all of the films on this list, and outright love ATTACK THE BLOCK, THE RAID, and DREDD. So I’m all for seeing the tenement block further utilized as a backdrop for killer cinema. And although TOWER BLOCK didn’t make my Top 5 Fantastic Fest films, I really had a blast with it and think it’ll find a loving audience here in North America.


What films did I miss? Why do you think we’ve seen the arrival of this trend? What awesome films haven’t we seen yet that would benefit from being set on the block?


Honorable Mentions: The DISTRICT 13 films and CANDYMAN.



And I’m Out.



Terry Malloy AKA Ed Travis





Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 7, 2012, 9:09 a.m. CST

    Cool news

    by KonkBob

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 9:17 a.m. CST

    The Horde

    by Lars Espeter

    A french production about cops storming a tower block to take revenge on a gang of drug dealers. In the middle of the skirmish they realize Paris is being overrun by zombies and team up to defend the tower ... and their brains. It was released in 2009, also was shown on the Fantasy Filmfest in Germany where I saw it. Quite good actually, but nothing special, and has a very dark tone. The US trailer can be found on U-Tube:

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 9:40 a.m. CST


    by Lone Fox

    1 & 2, fighting their way to the top of the building etc etc

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 9:47 a.m. CST

    @lone fox: good one

    by Lars Espeter

    I did not think of those two. Probably because you almost never see the building from the outside. REC³ has more outside scenes and views of the building itself. Hmm ... maybe there should be a spoiler warning for this thread?

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:03 a.m. CST


    by Andrew

    I think money plays a role in this. Shooting a film mostly in an apartment complex means fewer locations. Cinema is all about making cheaper films that they hope can generate huge profits. Also, the system loves repetition. If something works once, you can bet it'll be run into the ground until it no longer makes money. I think this is a numbers game.

  • It's a cryin' shame this film tanked at the box office.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:13 a.m. CST

    Dredds my favourite film this year too

    by RocketFuckingMan

    Hobbit might pip it though but it's still miles ahead of the 'other' comic book films out this year.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:14 a.m. CST

    Attack the Block

    by RocketFuckingMan

    is going on after I take the dog out for a dump....

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:18 a.m. CST

    Punisher 3

    by cookylamoo

    At the climax of the film the Punisher fights his way up a skyscraper to reach Jigsaw.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:20 a.m. CST

    Die Hard is the best.

    by Skankardly

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:22 a.m. CST

    Does anyone remember

    by Lars Espeter

    what that Dolph Lundgren movie was called where he was based in a ruined highrise as a sniper? I know, the thread is about recent movies, but I cannot remember the name and that bugs me :) I think it was directed by Russel Mulcahy.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:29 a.m. CST

    Silent Trigger

    by Skankardly

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:37 a.m. CST

    @skankardly: Thanks!

    by Lars Espeter

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 11:03 a.m. CST

    by mariust

    Quarantine would fall into this category I think.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 11:04 a.m. CST


    by mariust

    Sorry, double post

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 11:49 a.m. CST

    You missed "The Veteran"

    by spader

    Robert Miller (Toby Kebbell), a veteran paratrooper, is returning from the war in Afghanistan to his home in a violent decaying South London council housing estate, overrun by gun-toting youth gangs.

  • Maybe if they were a bunch of movies taking place on the moon or something, sure, but just because a large portion of the movie takes place in a high rise, that makes it a "sub-genre"?

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 2:04 p.m. CST

    @ petethepercyless

    by Lone Fox

    I really enjoyed The Horde- until the last 20 minutes or so. Descended (ha!) into a spoof, really jarred with me. Yet to see [REC]3, I'm a bit behind in my moviegoing lately. DREDD was really good, tempted to see it again (maybe UK box office can save it?)

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 4:08 p.m. CST

    LA HORDE...

    by impetus

    Should definitely be on this list.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 4:22 p.m. CST

    Sorum, World Apartment Horror, Mulberry St (kinda)...

    by Collin Armstrong

    Those are all horror (and Sorum is only horror-ish - kind of social realist horror, I guess). Maybe Nakata and Salles' respective takes on Dark Water?

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 4:27 p.m. CST

    Oh, and the under-rated / under-seen Urban Ghost Story

    by Collin Armstrong

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 4:38 p.m. CST

    Dredd brilliant. failed by appalling marketing

    by Rakesh Patel

    yeah i'm looking at you fucking 3D. leaps and bounds over looper, which despite the hype was a let down. dredd is destined to become a cult classic, much like robocop. how could it fucking not. A crying shame really.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 4:38 p.m. CST

    attck of the block shit. the raid. same shit, different floor

    by Rakesh Patel

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 4:46 p.m. CST


    by adeceasedfan

    Are you still doing Cannon Fodder?

  • Even though the 3D wasn't that bad, and the "slo-mo" drug sequences were well done, a LOT of people don't want to wear those stupid fucking glasses, myself included. The commercials did it no favors either, cutting it together to look fucking corny as shit.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 5:46 p.m. CST

    Third vote for Dredd as the coolest movie of 2012

    by Quake II

    What a suprise. With over a year's worth of Avengers, Prometheus and Dark Knight Rises hype, Dredd takes the top spot for me in 2012. I've seen it..... 5 TIMES! I think I need some sort of intervention. The writer, producers and director of Dredd didn't do a single thing wrong but it seems the marketing dept dropped the ball big time.

  • I liked the character, but I felt that Urban was miscast. The trailers looked stupid, and I really didn't have much hope. How wrong I was.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 6:50 p.m. CST


    by JOEUMAN

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 6:51 p.m. CST

    Game of Death

    by BubbaDestructo

    Bruce Lee Kareem Abdul Jabbar 1972

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 9:28 p.m. CST

    @ adeceasedfan: Yep! Submitted Part 5 Today!

    by Ed Travis

    Fantastic Fest and a full time job just slammed me in a good way. Excited to keep plugging through the full Cannon catalog, or as many as I can find on home video.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 9:51 p.m. CST

    cool thx.

    by adeceasedfan

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 9:53 p.m. CST

    My vote too for DREDD as coolest movie of the year!!

    by Jake Pantlin

    DREDD blew my fucking mind away! I liked it better the TDKR, ASM, and Avengers combined. I hope that movie sells a lot of fucking DVDs when it gets released, to help with getting a sequel made. This movie may have tanked due to bad marketing, but I can see it doing very well on Blu Ray. This film will have a cult following.

  • Oct. 7, 2012, 10:02 p.m. CST

    Dredd is at the top of my list, too...

    by Mr. Waturi

    Well written, beautifully shot, and it kicked ass.

  • Long live Urban as Dredd.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 12:09 a.m. CST

    Enemy Territory

    by Stegman84

    A guy who acts, and even looks kind of like William Katt, but isn't, Ray Parker jr, Jan Michael Vincent as a wheelchair bound vietnam vet with a sack full of crazy, and a gang called the vampires, with Tony Todd as their leader, The Count. What's not to love? The HBO movie from back in the mid eighties, The Guardian, which had Louis Gossett jr and Martin Sheen squaring off was pretty cool too.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 1:25 a.m. CST

    Dredd vs The Raid

    by Stegman84

    2007 and into 2008: First and subsequent drafts of Dredd 'Peach Trees' script written by Alex Garland. Dec 2008: Alex Garland announced publicly as Dredd screenwriter. Sept 2009: Artist Jock (Mark Simpson) confirms he has been creating visuals from Garland's Dredd script. May 2010: Dredd creator, John Wagner, confirms the Dredd script is complete. Early July 2010: Version 8 of the Dredd script is leaked online. This version is very close to what would be the final Dredd film. Late July 2010: Producer Todd Brown confirms working with Gareth Evans on Berandal. Aug-Nov 2010: Somewhere between late August & November, Gareth Evans shelves the film Berandal due to budgetary concerns and then later starts work on The Raid script. Aug 2010: Pre-production on Dredd begins. Nov 2010: Pre-production on The Raid begins. Nov 2010: Dredd begins filming. Feb 2011: Dredd completes filming. Mar 2011: The Raid begins filming. 2012 onwards: Idiots everywhere, including reviewers on film sites that really should know better, stupidly claim that Dredd rips off The Raid, despite all facts to the contrary being there for anybody who bothered to look. Hell, Evans once admitted to seeing the Peach Trees script, and it has been strongly suggested by people in the know that he is *known* to have read it, but has since apparently changed his mind and whenever the subject is raised now he says the exact opposite, claiming to have known nothing whatsoever about Dredd until after The Raid had finished production, and after he then became aware he claims that this is why The Raid was then rushed to theatres as quickly as possible, in order to beat Dredd to the punch. Producer Todd Brown has often defensively stated that they never expected The Raid would be seen outside of Asian territories, lending credence to the theory that they thought they'd get it done under the radar, make some money and move on, and then when The Raid started to test so well, they rushed it out as widespread as possible so they would look like the originators rather than the plagiarists, as that was their only option at that point. It worked for them too, Dredd has undeservedly failed at the worldwide box office, and gets constantly and stupidly blamed for ripping off a film that quite likely ripped it off, while The Raid gets a sequel, Evans is being courted by hollywood, and The Raid rights have been purchased for a planned big hollywood remake. If I were Garland and co I'd be pretty pissed, honestly. It's bad enough that a film that gave film and comic fans everything they say they want was routinely ignored and let fail at the box office, and that these guys have probably made more off of Garland's hard work than he ever will, but to rub salt in the wound with the whole idiotic and untrue Dredd ripped off The Raid meme on top of all that must be a real kick to the balls. Like one film over the other all you want, like them both, or like neither, people are free to choose, but can we please at least kill this idiotic and blatantly untrue Dredd ripped off The Raid meme once and for all, so that the film isn't damned for all time by an offence that it never even committed?

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 1:33 a.m. CST

    Terry needs black block post.

    by Dawhiteguy

    You have some of the best columns on this website these days. They are interesting. I hope they keep you around.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 1:34 a.m. CST

    great article, well done.

    by billyhitchcock1

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 1:36 a.m. CST

    i do hate the word Tropes though.

    by billyhitchcock1

    easily the most overused word in film criticism right now.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 2:05 a.m. CST

    DREDD's $28 million against a $60 million budget is not a rise.

    by Nintendarth

    It's a staggering crash and a further nail in the coffin for obscure comic book properties. Studios have finally figured out the big lie of ComiCon mattering. NNNNNnnnnNNNope!

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 2:06 a.m. CST


    by Nintendarth


  • Oct. 8, 2012, 5:33 a.m. CST

    Love it or hate it, SKYLINE fits that list too

    by megapuppy

    Pretty much entirely filmed in the director's apartment block, to save money. And I *like* Skyline, even though I know it's very stupid. Also - Heartless with Jim Sturgess.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 5:42 a.m. CST


    by albert comin

  • I hope the movie gets discovered on home video, and thus convince the financers to make the sequel it deserves. Many movies nowdays get rediscovered by general audiences on home video after a meager theatrical run, and so, there's hope. So, i say, spread the word. Testify, brothers!

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 6:55 a.m. CST

    @ lone fox: Rec3

    by Lars Espeter

    felt a lot like Dawn of the Dead, just exchange the mall with a large hotel/wedding palace and there you go. It was okay, but nothing special. Haven't seen Dredd yet. So looking forward to it. Hope the DVD sales will save it. The marketing - here in Germany - for a franchise only known by a few Germans was even worse than the John Carter marketing. The guys responsible for that marketing should go back to business school and learn about the importance of target group analysis.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 7:54 a.m. CST

    REC3 was an abomination. Don't know what they were thinking

    by IWasInJuniorHighDickhead

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 8:48 a.m. CST

    What about DIE HARD?

    by onezeroone

    Somehow whenever I see such a movie it reminds me of Die Hard. Not a residential tower, but entire movie set within a tower.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 10:12 a.m. CST

    Another one (probably) not mentioned so far:

    by buggerbugger

    A UK horror film from 2008 called 'The Disappeared'.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 10:16 a.m. CST

    Oh, another one I just remembered: 'Sugarhouse' from 2007.

    by buggerbugger

    Starring Andy Serkus as a total heed th' ball drug dealer with a samurai sword looking for his FUCKING GUN, YOU FUCKING FUCKER! Not a bad little flick, from what I remember.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 10:33 a.m. CST


    by RowKseat25

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 10:37 a.m. CST

    High-Rise UK Teen Horror COMEDOWN 2012

    by RowKseat25

    Check it out, saw it last week at Grimm Fest Horror fest in Manchester UK!

  • 77% of all major movie critics liked it, are they all fanboys you think? I know in my case, I loved the movie, and I've never even seen a Judge Dredd comic or whatever he's from. In fact I've never gotten into comic books at all. I did hate the original movie, it was just too corny.

  • Dredd has a 77% critics rating at rottentomatoes and an 84% with viewers. Unheard of nuimbers for a violent sci-fi action film. I'll bet you didn't see Dredd. You're probably one of those talkbackers who doesn't see or support anything yet has an opinion about every movie released. Your loss.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 2:14 p.m. CST

    Dread = awesometastic

    by cromulent

    Hopefully will do so well on dvd/bluray they make a sequel, but I'm not counting my chickens just yet.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 2:15 p.m. CST

    Dredd was so awesome I spelledt it wrong

    by cromulent


  • I couldn't had put it better myself.

  • Oct. 8, 2012, 11:11 p.m. CST

    Night Terror - Doctor Who ep9 last season

    by The Shroud

    Really had that feel and wide shots of the block was creepy. Dredd = Awesome. Sad that marketing was crap