A neat idea scores more hits than misses in “Downtime,” a British elevator thriller set in a grungy housing project. Though the script has problems knitting together its subsidiary characters, and the finale has a tacked-on feel after the foregoing claustrophobic drama, this bold attempt at cross-breeding opposed genres has enough nail-biting moments and entertainment value to generate some local B.O. coin, with more to come on homevideo. Foreign sales will need a bigger push.
Sock opening, with a suicidal young woman, Chrissy (Susan Lynch), about to jump from a 21st-story balcony with 4-year-old son Jake (Adam Johnston), immediately signals something different from the British norm. Setting is a rain-lashed tower block in Newcastle, northeast England, and while the cops and crowds congregate below, former police psychologist Rob (Paul McGann) tries to coax Chrissy in. She and Jake survive — though not in the way expected — and Rob, who’s not far from being an emotional basket case himself, feels drawn to “save” the pugnacious Irishwoman from her demons.
The apartment block is a graffiti-daubed crime zone roamed by teenage hoodlums who torch the apartment of Chrissy’s neighbor Jan (Denise Bryson) when she goes public about the problem. Jan’s husband, Jimmy (Tom Georgeson), has been reduced to a frustrated wimp, and their son, Kevin (David Horsefield), is a halfhearted gang member.
Finally persuading Chrissy to go out on a date, Rob is trapped on the way down with her, Jake and Jimmy’s sickly old father (Birdy Sweeney) when drunken gang members trash the elevator’s engine room. In a 45-minute second act, which marries claustrophobic cinematic tension to development of the lead characters, pic follows through on its impressive opening, as one cliff-hanger leads to another with grim logic. Final reels, however, have a phonier feel, as the movie cranks up again for a dramatic finale.
Not an obvious choice for the role, McGann (“I” in “Withnail and I”) is surprisingly good as the frazzled psych-turned-action-man, and is matched (and sometimes surpassed) in acting and screen presence by Irish thesp Lynch (the half-human water creature in “The Secret of Roan Inish”), who makes a compelling character out of her tough, no-nonsense single mom. Indian-born, British-raised helmer Bharat Nalluri proves a deft hand, in his second feature, at delivering slick thrills while always focusing on the actors.
If the script had remained centered on the apartment block through to the end — and developed loose ends like the roaming gang members, the character of Kevin and the poorly written Jimmy (which squanders Georgeson’s talents) — the movie could have laid claim to being a successful genre-bender. As it is, it’s a game try with some splendid moments. Among the supports, David Roper stands out as McGann’s police buddy.
Tony Imi’s full-bodied lensing of the scruffy settings is a plus, and Simon Boswell’s music is effectively atmospheric. Though set in Geordieland, the film was shot on location in Liverpool, with the elevator shaft constructed in a large sports arena in nearby Warrington.