Attack the Block Review
By Bret Dorman
This year, like many years past, we have had many sequels (Transformers 3, Harry Potter), movies based on existing properties (Comic Book Movies, Smurfs), and even movies based on Nostalgia (Midnight in Paris, Super 8). We’ve also had a lot of movies about aliens (Battle: LA, Paul).
What we don’t have are enough badass alien invasion movies about personable characters in an intimate setting, that knows how to pay homage to movies while still having a new take on the genre.
Enter: Attack the Block.
(Note: If you haven’t seen the movie, a preview, or know anything about it, I recommend just going in cold. I knew almost nothing about this movie except for the tagline “Inner City Vs Outer Space” and heard the buzz around it. Just know it is worth seeing.)
The Story: Moses (John Boyega) and his gang are in the middle of a mugging when all of a sudden they find themselves in the middle of an alien invasion. They have two options: hide or fight. Let’s just say the option they choose involves a samurai sword. Also, Nick Frost plays a goofball!
Attack the Block is going to draw some obvious comparisons to Super 8. Kids. Aliens. Summer. Fun. While I thought Super 8 did a fine job balancing that ‘remember this from the other movies you love?’ feel while still making an engaging story, Attack the Block never really winks or nods to the audience in the same way. Writer/Director Joe Cornish doesn’t model his film shot for shot like Abrams did with Spielberg. Instead he creates a world where characters acknowledge their situation in the same way a rowdy group of teens might do while watching Super 8. The innocence of childhood has been replaced by a sort of malevolence.
The movie starts with Moses and his gang actually mugging someone. They are badguys. There’s no ulterior motive. No reason for it, sympathetic or otherwise. In fact, later they are seen simply throwing away their spoils. We eventually find out ‘why’ Moses might be the way he is, but it’s never justified. Cornish never apologizes for or excuses his ‘heroes’ behavior.
It’s no surprise that by the end of the movie, Cornish would want to have the audience rooting for Moses and the gang, as they barely escape attack after attack. It’s not the fact that the movie takes the generic story arc of ‘make a misguided youth learn the errors of his ways’, but how effectively it shows that arc. There’s a couple of lines in here that sum up what the movie is doing that I could have done without, but that’s pretty excusable for a first time (feature film) writer/director.
The rest of the ensemble cast do a fantastic job. Some may say they are annoying (especially Alex Esmail who plays Pest), but I think the way they all interact plays well and realistic. The girls do great for their brief moments. Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway are throwaway goofs (I wrote ‘throwaway before I knew the actor’s name was Treadaway), but the two real comic ‘reliefs’ are the two kids, self-referred to as “Probs” (Sammy Williams) and “Mayhem” (Michael Ajao) who desperately seek the gangs’ admiration and approval.
What surprised me the most though was not only how well Sam, the mugging victim from the beginning, was intergrated into the story, but also the strong performance by Jodie Whittaker. She provides a sort of moral compass for Moses and the audience and in a way makes the ending something to actually care about on a personal level, not just, you know, the whole end of the human race thing…
Joe Cornish makes some ‘cameos’ in some of Edgar Wright’s movies (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and it certainly makes sense the two are writing partners on the upcoming Adventures of Tin Tin and Marvel’s Ant Man. It’s refreshing to see people who clearly love movies and storytelling so in charge of their craft. Like Wright, Cornish seems to have reworked his script so many times that not one scene is wasted or dull. His visual style isn’t as deliciously chaotic as Wright’s, but the both tell a story at a frenetic pace that guarantees multiple viewings will be just as fun. In fact, the way Attack the Block is paced and written, the first time you already feel like you’re in on the inside jokes.
As far as the alien design goes, it was once again wise for Cornish and Company to go in fresh. Their aliens aren’t call backs to another movie, but an entirely new creation. Even when they are on screen in full view there’s something weird about them and their presence works. The best part is it feels like they have weight, that their movements and placement in the shots are completely natural.
Lastly, I just wanted to mention the language. This is a British film. Everyone speaks with a pretty thick accent. Some people were even suggesting that this movie should have been released with subtitles. I don’t think it’s the accents that most people would have trouble with, but the way the kids talk. They speak with a seemingly made up, very colorful slang that to some, I guess, is hard to translate. I honestly never had any problems understanding what was going on. Do they use slang that I use? No. Do they talk the way I talk? No. But I still was able to follow along perfectly fine without it hindering my enjoyment at all.
In Conclusion, most summer movies that have come out this year seem like work. Or that the people involved are going through the same old paces and just phoning it in. Attack the Block never feels that way. There are obvious scenes and cliches, but the writing, visual style, and overall intimate setting feels fresh.
Everyone secretly wishes for an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse, as one of the boys states before they make a mad dash for their block, ‘I’m scared but you know what? This is pretty cool too.’ One thing you don’t need to secretly wish for is more movies like this.
Final Grade: A