By John Corrado
★★★½ (out of 4)
A visually stunning mix of animation and archival footage, the unique documentary Tower recreates the events of August 1st, 1966 when a lone gunmen with a sniper rifle positioned himself atop the clock tower at the University of Texas, and for over ninety minutes unleashed a reign of terror that claimed sixteen lives and left many others wounded.
The story is told from the perspective of the remaining survivors, who appear in talking head interviews that have been traced over using rotoscoping and dubbed using actors, so the subjects can look and sound more like their younger selves, a technique that is often surprisingly affective.
The first two acts of Tower have an immediacy that is harrowing to watch, putting us as close as we will ever get to actually having been on campus or in the surrounding area as the terrifying carnage unfolded. The events of this fateful day are all painstakingly recreated through striking and beautifully rendered animated sequences that switch between black and white and colour, all set to an excellent soundtrack that helps transport us back to the time period.
The last act is a little more conventional in its approach, but finds genuine emotion in how it shows the fallout of the attack, briefly touching on the tragic amount of mass shootings that have sadly followed in its wake. Director Keith Maitland has crafted an admirably unique hybrid of documentary and narrative reenactment, mixing highly stylized animation and real footage to moving effect, in a style that recalls the Oscar-nominated Waltz With Bashir.
Although Tower is a tough film to watch, it’s also an important and often striking one, a work that feels reflective instead of exploitative in its approach to exploring the tragedy of a mass shooting, with the killer’s name barely mentioned and the focus rightfully kept on the heroism of the survivors.
Tower opens today in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.