– Summary –
Director : Joe Cornish
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost, Luke Treadaway.
Approx Running Time : 88 Minutes
Synopsis: Aliens invade an inner city suburban apartment block, and a group of hoodlum teens and their recently mugged victim must battle to defend themselves.
What we think : How the hell did this film skip by me? Why have I never heard of this until now? Criminally overlooked here in Australia, Attack The Block is a balls-out wonderful film to watch – it’s part action, part comedy, all great fun, and well put together. If you haven’t seen it, and wonder what on earth I’m talking about, go out and find a copy of this film and give it a shot.
Alien invasion films don’t come much weirder than this one. Attack The Block, co-funded by the British Lottery, produced by the guys behind classic Brit-coms like Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim, is one of those films you watch and then wonder why you’d never heard of it before. A bolt from the blue, this dazzling debut feature from Joe Cornish (this is his first film, really?) is both hilarious, scary and action packed, all within the confines of a dilapidated South London apartment block. There’s nobody in this film you’ll have heard of save an appearance from Hot Fuzz star Nick Frost, and the acting is about as on-par with adequate from the essentially amateur cast, but what this film lacks in big name stars it more than makes up for in sheer balls-out thrills. Dammit, if there was a way to make you stop reading this and go watch the film for yourself, instead of reading about it here, I’d be doing it! Attack The Block is one of the best surprise package films of the last 12 months, without doubt. Like Scott Pilgrim, Boondock Saints or Equilibrium (f*ck off, I loved that film!), Attack The Block comes from nowhere as a film and tears bigger, bolder, more expensive headline films a new ass in the process.
While returning home from work, nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is mugged by a street gang comprising of Moses (John Boyega), Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones), and Biggz (Simon Howard), before the event is interrupted by the arrival of an alien creature from space. Letting Sam go, the hoodlum gang takes off after the alien creature, eventually killing it and taking it back to local drug distributor Ron’s (Nick Frost) place for safekeeping. There, drug boss Hi Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) forces Moses to become his drug mule, although the arrival of more, even larger and more violent alien creatures puts a dent in the nights festivities. The creatures begin to attack residents of the block, specifically Moses and his friends, including a couple of policemen who arrive to arrest Moses for the mugging (Sam’s gone to the cops to report the incident). As Moses and his gang scramble for safety through the labyrinth of their apartment block, they slowly begin to deduce the true nature of the alien creatures, and devise a plan to stop them once and for all.
Attack The Block begins slowly, and ends with a bang (literally), with the audience knowing by the end that redemption has come for all concerned. A perfectly structured narrative, some excellent amateur performances (although the casting of John Boyega as Moses seems to have unearthed a real rough diamond!) and better-than-expected visual and practical effects, Attack The Block has something for everyone looking for a fun film to stick into the DVD player. I did mention at the outset that this is the debut feature film for British comedian Joe Cornish (from the now defunct Adam & Joe Show) but you wouldn’t know it – the film has the look and feel of an old hand behind the camera, a fact not lost on me as I watched, gobsmacked, as this thing unspooled before my eyes. Lighting, angles and framing, editing, sound design and spot-on casting all work to produce lightning in a bottle here, for Attack manages to do something very few genre films accomplish – transcend their genre. Part comedy, part action film, part indictment on the disenfranchised youth of today, Attack The Block straddles various comedic lines and, while perhaps a little heavy handed in parts, zips along like an out-of0-control freight train heading for a kindergarten. It’s madness, this film. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Aliens in Kennington? Give me a break – a fact one character in the film even points out to everyone else (including us); why would aliens come to a low-rent area of London for shitz-n-giggles? There is a point, don’t worry, and it’s a bit of a stretch in the long run, but the sheer enjoyment of this film overrides any minute weakness inherent in the screenplay.
The story itself, which seems to blend several ensemble styled films into one, isn’t the strongest in terms of character development, but then, there’s so many characters involved in the relatively brief 88 minute runtime that to stop and delve into a characters’ psyche would undermine the frantic feel Attack The Block maintains throughout. Joe Cornish’s script, which features a fairly heavy amount of local slang, will perhaps alienate (ha!) some of the audience with its inherently raw, street-styled dialogue, and the somewhat heavy-handed moral lesson dealt to Moses seems counter-intuitive to the flagrant disregard for cinematic convention throughout everything else, but somehow, someway, Cornish has managed to use the best of Cameron, a little bit of Guy Ritchie, plenty of Tarantino, and a dash of George Lucas to craft a film so blisteringly amusing and action packed, it’s hard to discern a real weakness within. The film feels like a jigsaw made of the remnants of other genre films, a kind of revelatory homage by association with others if you will, and the sense of “hey, wasn’t this in another film I saw” occasionally creeps in, but the essential meat of the film is as fresh as a brand new corpse.
As mentioned, the cast are almost entirely amateurs, and I only reiterate this to highlight just how seamless and effortless the performances in this film actually are. Street hoodlums act and behave a certain way (as we saw in the 2011 London Riots) and I think Attack The Block distills that angry mob mentality to its purest form, with Moses the epitome of the “angry youth of the UK”. Where Cornish succeeds in his characters is giving Moses, as the lead “hero” a real fallibility, a sense of right and wrong buried just beneath the surface of that bullish exterior. Boyega, who looks like a younger version of Denzel Washington, it must be said, delivers a solid, charming portrayal of the gangs leader, who realizes the error of his ways and sets about fixing it – of all the characters in the film, his is the one we’re supposed to identify with, and I think Cornish and Boyega manage to accomplish just that. We root for Moses, even though he’s a scumbag and a thief, not afraid to bully people if he can get his own way; at his core, though, Moses has a code he lives by (as do all the gang), his humanity buried deep by years of abandonment and isolation from family and authority. Jodie Whittaker, as Sam, offers the token common sense character of the film, the one who is the most normal of all our reprobate cast, and it’s she who breaks through with Moses when the proverbial hits the fan. The rest of the cast are solid back-up, giving their uniquely British street cred a realism and rawness that’s apropos to the flavor of the story. These guys seem to actually come from the street, such is the credibility of their performances. Kudos to Cornish for finding them and casting them in this.
Did I mention aliens? Yes? Well, sit down and shut up Barnaby, because the Aliens in this movie aren’t your fun loving Vulcan explorers out to go where no-one’s gone before: these alien creatures are fast, vicious, dark as obsidian and feature some awesome glow-in-the-dark fangs. Whoever designed these creatures needs a serious raise, because the Attack aliens are awesome to say the least. Cornish shoots them in darkness, at least at first, until they slowly become more and more revealed to us for what they are – incredibly swift, dangerously powerful (yet, weirdly susceptible to knives, bullets and baseball bats) and cool to watch: I think Cornish took his visual cues from James Cameron’s Aliens a little bit, by keeping the aliens obscured or out of shot or in the shadows until absolutely required for maximum shock value. Admittedly, once we’ve seen the alien creatures, they become less frightening, although their countenance might be intimidating at first, this soon gives way to the raw power of their size and strength. All along, Cornish gives the film a kind of sarcastic style of representing the creatures (at one point, they seem to hover several stories up in the air, all baring their glowing fangs behind a character who doesn’t know they’re there – very Road Runner style!) and it works so well you fall for it every time. Yes, there’s the obligatory “jump” moments, one of which drags on for what seems like an eternity of editing and pacing, but in the end, it’s good old edge-of-your-seat stuff the entire time. If there’s a downside to the execution of the aliens, is that like the Roland Emmerich Godzilla of 1998, sometimes the logic behind the creatures falls a little flat. One moment, the creatures are incredibly fast and can take out a fully grown man before he has time to blink, and the next, they’re struggling to run down a fat kid and his mate on a bicycle. One moment, a couple of bullets will bring one down, and later, another creature withstands a hailstorm of gunfire without so much as a scratch – and I guess this leaves the viewer in a bit of a quandary: do we accept that these creatures are unstoppable killing machines and can scale sheer walls to obtain their prey, or do we sit there wondering if, perhaps, this time, a single shot to the head might just do it? It’s a small thing, but something to note while watching.
From a production standpoint, Attack The Block belies its lower budget and indie roots and rocks the kazbah with a full blast sound and image assault. The score by Basement Jaxx and Steve Price, the former perhaps poster boys for the hooded kids on the streets these days, is appropriately punk and scatty, the kind of sound you’d imagine these kids listening to with their iPods. The sound design, coupled with some stunning visual effects from Double Negative, is superb, and really elevates the excitement on-screen to a visceral level. This isn’t a massive blockbuster film in the vein of Iron Man or Transformers, so don’t expect the full throttle surround sound action you’d get in those movies, but Attack The Block more than compensates for its realistic tones and raw, visceral nature. If I can also mention the superb editing work of Jonathan Amos here too: he makes this film slicker than snot. He keeps the pacing going, keeps the action vibrant, keeps the dialogue moments fast and raw, and above all keeps the film a cohesive whole. Mention has been made that folks not from the UK (or even folks not from South London) may have trouble understanding the thick accents the cast use, as well as the UK slang they spout, and I think there will be some viewers reaching for the subtitle function of their BluRay players in due course, but one the whole, I had no trouble understanding what was going on. Sure, sometimes I didn’t quite understand a sentence, but the inflections and nuances made the impact crystal clear. And after a while, your brain will begin to decipher the accents well enough anyway. Anybody who say through The Acid House without having to read the provided subtitles will do okay here.
Attack The Block is more than terrific – it’s an absolute blast, and anybody who’s even the slightest bit interested in films should check this out. It’s a film I’ve been blindsided by, it’s that good. It’ll sneak up on you, make you smile, jump and laugh, and if that’s not enough reason to go out and watch it, then you’re dead to me. Go on, go and watch it. Before the aliens get you. Belief.
What others think about Attack The Block:
Dan over at Top 10 Films has a pretty positive comment: “Attack The Block is an intelligently conceived and executed film debut from Joe Cornish.”
Aiden at Cut The Crap was equally as pleased: “If only every alien invasion movie was this awesome.”
The guys at The Droid You’re Looking For had this say: “After nearly two days of deep thought about it, I think I’ve finally formulated all of the things I’d like to say about the movie…. HOLY SH*T IT WAS F***ING AWESOME!!”
Bartleby over at Movie Mobsters is less effusive: “There’s a point where Attack the Block gets to the end of its inspiration and exhausted the story it wants to tell. Thankfully, the director is in tune with this fact and gets out of our way before all of the magic is gone.”
My mate Saint Pauly over at WTF? seemed impressed by it..: “The apartment door is busted open and they hear more creatures, but don’t look for another flat to seek asylum in. A typical problem of low budget movies is that you can’t hire enough actors, so every scene looks like a Crispin Glover Oscar Party.”
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