With Studio Canal promoting their new alien-invasion film Attack The Block as being from the producers of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, fans of those films will certainly come into the film expecting a genre film which simultaneously indulges in genre tropes and laughs in the faces of them. Will writer Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block stand beside those films as another satirical genre classic or will it find its own legs as an alien film played straight?
There can be no doubts about it: Attack The Block is a fantastic film. First-time big-screen writer/director Joe Cornish easily could have gone for the low-hanging fruit and done his best impression of Edgar Wright, the writer/director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and what would have resulted would most likely have been a poor imitation at best. However, rather than imitate Wright’s style by crafting a satirical alien-invasion film, Cornish takes his subject matter incredibly seriously, directing the film with a steady hand that belies his directorial experience.
The film starts off as a small gang of teenagers mug an unassuming woman named Sam (Jodie Whittaker) as she is returning home from work. Led by Moses (newcomer John Boyega), the gang of six all live in an apartment complex in a rundown part of South London, which they protectively refer to as “The Block,” and feel entitled to punishing and robbing outsiders who venture into their territory. Shortly after robbing Sam, something falls from the sky and crash-lands into a nearby car, all but completely destroying it. While Moses is rummaging through the car looking for valuables, a small alien creature attacks him and flees into a nearby shack. Moses, furious that anything would undermine his authority over “The Block”, quickly gathers his gang and hunts and kills the hiding alien.
Feeling invincible, the boys drag the alien corpse around South London until they reach their drug dealer’s apartment, realizing that their find might be worth a lot of money. After Moses convinces the local drug kingpin Hi-Hatz, played to revolting perfection by Jumayn Hunter, to keep the dead creature in his weed room, the most secure place on “The Block,” he notices more aliens crash-landing in South London. The boys, intent on defending their turf and feeling untouchable after killing the first alien, all scatter to obtain weapons before assembling to hunt down the aliens. This clash of “inner city versus outer space,” aptly coined by the film’s marketers, serves as the plot of the film and carries it through to its conclusion as the boys find themselves in an all-out war with the interstellar intruders.
Any film that features child or teen actors can easily be torpedoed by the standard, groan-inducing child acting which has afflicted so many movies over the years. Perhaps surprisingly then, the acting in this film is an undeniable strength. While all the gang-members deliver convincing, and at times touching, performances, a special nod needs to be given to John Boyega for his portrayal of Moses. Among the gang-members, Joe Cornish gives Boyega the most material to work with and he absolutely rises to the occasion. As the film progresses, the viewer begins to understand his motivations for selling drugs and seeking out brotherhood in his friends through glimpses into his situation at home. Even when Joe Cornish inserts a few arguably overly-political lines of dialogue in which Moses claims the Feds feel the “blacks aren’t killing each other off fast enough” and sent the aliens to speed up the process, Boyega delivers them with enough conviction to pull them off. Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway also deliver solid performances as Ron and Brewis, a low-level, affable weed salesman and his self-entitled, National Geographic-loving best customer.
Even paramount to the acting, the aspect of Attack The Block which deserves the greatest recognition is undoubtedly the sound design. The shrieks of the alien creatures which dominate the landscape of the latter two-thirds of the film are perfectly unnerving, managing to instill fear time and time again. Of particular note as well is the soundtrack. Cornish expertly weaves bassy and low-level electronic beats throughout the film to heighten the mood and engage the viewer. More than once I found myself bobbing my head to the soundtrack as the moody sounds aptly reflected the increasingly tense on-screen action.
The pithy 88 minute runtime forces Cornish to keep his foot on the accelerator for the entire film while also preventing it from overstaying its welcome and burning through its charm. All things considered, this film is clinic in directing a smaller-budget alien film: fantastic creature design, detestable alien and human enemies, compelling and entertaining characters, a tight script coupled with creative direction, and fantastic acting. To compare it to another small-budget alien-invasion film from last year, Skyline could have been a significantly better movie had it taken a few pages out of Block‘s book.
Overall, Attack The Block was a wonderful surprise. Its combination of fantastic sound design, direction, and acting with likable characters made for a wonderful moviegoing experience. The entire film builds up to an exciting climax at a dizzying pace and the question, “why Earth?” receives a satisfying, logical answer. All told, I cannot think of anything Cornish could have done to make this a more enjoyable film. While Attack The Block was officially released on a limited basis at the end of July and still appears to be rolling out slowly, it is absolutely a film worth seeking out and deserves my highest recommendation.