This shift in focus — from the perpetrator to the victims — doesn’t read as especially American or cinematic. (One of Hollywood’s most durable genres is the gangster movie, after all, not the victim picture.) And while there may be all sorts of sociopolitical and psychological explanations for why movies are so violent, it’s also just an easy way to keep people nervously waiting and watching. Mr. Maitland put in time as an assistant director on the TV series “Law & Order” and he understands how to narratively string out violence. The movie begins with Neal Spelce (Monty Muir), a journalist gutsily reporting from the scene while driving closer to it, an opener that creates instant tension.
The scene then shifts to Claire Wilson James (Violett Beane), a heavily pregnant freshman who is just finishing a coffee break with her boyfriend, Tom Eckman (Cole Bee Wilson). As they’re walking across campus, they are both hit. Claire goes down first, followed by Tom. They remain where they fall for an unbearably long time, creating a ghastly spectacle that becomes an emblematic tableau that Mr. Maitland returns to again and again, at times using news footage. He soon adds other victims and voices, including that of Aleck Hernandez Jr. (Aldo Ordoñez), a teenager on his paper route riding past the campus, his cousin perched on his bike.
The expressive animation was done via rotoscoping, a technique that involves tracing moving images by hand (as in Disney’s “Snow White”) or through software (as in Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life”). The results in “Tower” are extremely liquid, with each line incessantly ebbing and flowing, creating a vivid sense of life. The animation gives Mr. Maitland a lot of creative freedom, allowing him to take Expressionistic leaps. When Ms. James and Mr. Eckman are shot, their bodies briefly transform into wrenching, twisting white silhouettes while the backdrop becomes a blast of bright red. You are spared the blood, even as the horror creeps in and then floods you.
In her article, Ms. Colloff noted that, surprisingly, perhaps, outside of some bullet holes, there were no physical reminders of the shooting at the University of Texas until 1999, when the school created a memorial garden. “No plaques had ever been displayed, no list of names read, no memorial services held,” she wrote. In 2007, the school finally installed a plaque observing the shooting, and this Aug. 1, the 50th anniversary, it dedicated a new memorial. Using a limited frame, Mr. Maitland does his own commemorating, inherently raising questions about terror, the nature of heroism and what it means to really survive. He also does something even more necessary: He turns names on a plaque into people.
“Tower” is not rated. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes.