Mark (Lee Ross) is a struggling artist, separated from his wife and child and living in a grotty tower block. He wakes one morning to find that there’s no electricity or water supply and, more alarmingly, that he’s been hermetically sealed inside his flat. A voice on the intercom advises him that “the situation is under control” and in the grounds outside a military tent has been set up and mysterious figures in orange hazmat suits are on the prowl and appear to be removing the inhabitants of the neighbouring block by force.
Hollywood has been spewing out multi-million dollar blockbusters again this summer – generally, it has to be said, with agreeable results – and yet here’s a presumably super low-budget British effort wandering in unheralded out of nowhere to blow many of them right out of the water. Containment is another of those glorious unexpected triumphs that the British film industry is still able to pull out of its hat every now and again. Vaguely reminiscent of previous tower block thrillers such as....um...Tower Block and Comedown this debut feature from Neil Mcenery-West is practically a textbook example of how to create a tense, claustrophobic, edgy trust-no-one modern urban thriller.
Survivalist films are nothing new, of course, and on paper the whole premise of Containment has an undeniable whiff of seen-all-this-before. But Mcenery-West’s deft handling of the bleak, drab location (much of the film is set in the block itself with some atmospheric outside filming in the last act) and his small cast of core characters, powered by Lemon’s lean no-nonsense script, puts a brave new spin on an initially familiar and derivative story. Mark is quickly joined by a small and disparate group of neighbours and together – and sometimes not together – they struggle to make sense of their situation and try to work together to find a way to stay alive.
The ‘reveal‘ of exactly what’s going on might not be a huge surprise yet the film’s pace never slackens and even when it drifts perilously close to zombie movie territory at points – the rampaging, enraged neighbours escaped from the adjacent block determined to get their hands on the Hazmat guard Mark and his group have captured – it still manages to feel fresh, vibrant and original. Characterisation is sharp despite (or more probably because of) the film’s taut 75-minute running time and the cast – Lee Ross (EastEnders, Catherine Tate Show) and Sheila Reid (Benidorm, Doctor Who) being the best-known names – are utterly convincing in their portrayal of terrified, bewildered and yet doggedly-determined ordinary folk who find themselves in an extraordinary and desperate situation.
It’s hard to find significant fault with Containment so we won’t even try. Stark, brittle, disquieting and with an ending to rival The Mist for bleakness, Containment is British genre cinema to champion and one to shout about from the nearest rooftop. Just maybe not a tower block...
CONTAINMENT / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: NEIL MCENERY-WEST / SCREENPLAY: DAVID LEMON / STARRING: LEE ROSS, SHEILA REED, GABRIEL SENIOR, ANDREW LEUNG / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 11TH (LIMITED CINEMA RELEASE), OCTOBER 5TH (DVD)
Expecting Rating: 6 out of 10