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Movie Review: Attack the Block

September 1, 2011

In many ways,  Attack the Block (directed by Joe Cornish), is the movie I wish Super 8 had been. Being one of several, high-concept, sci-fi, alien-themed films released this year, Attack the Block stands out among the crowd for it’s strong story-telling, great performances, even pacing and innovative alien design.  The fact that is also accomplished being funny, scary and engrossing  - all the while tapping into my nostalgia vein without feeling manipulative or saccharine  - also separates it from it’s peers.

We are introduced to the core cast of characters – a small gang of youths and the woman whom they will mug – in South London on Guy Fawkes night. Distracted by the fireworks, bonfires and her cell phone, Sam (played by Jodie Whittaker) makes an easy mark for a young – but intimidating gang who hold her up at knife-point in the street as she is walking home. The mugging process is interrupted when a heavy object plummets from the sky – landing on and destroying a nearby car and drawing the attention of  Moses (played by Joe Boyega), the leader of his group.  Moses, thinking that there might be something of value to steal in the car, is attacked by a strange-looking creature as he approaches it. Angered and embarrassed, he pursues the creature at the encouragement of his peers, then traps and kills it. Unable to identify what kind of creature this is, Moses and his gang decide to keep it – proudly dragging it back to their apartment block – in the hopes that a tabloid may want to pay money to photograph it.  This decision has serious and weighty consequences and I feel that to disclose any more of the plot would be a huge disservice to anyone wishing to see the film.

I can say that those consequences work to move the story along – binding the film together and pushing it forward – creating a fun, scary tension that I found so entertaining. Unlike two other alien films released this summer (cough * Super 8, Cowboys and Aliens * cough) the threat of danger is ever present in Attack the Block because the film-makers weren’t afraid to get blood on their hands and allow for some casualties. Killing off nameless, faceless characters is easy enough, but the stakes are truly raised when someone you have grown attached to – or even just  recognize – meets a grisly end.

I think it’s worth mentioning the smart design of the alien creatures as well. Not only did the AtB aliens look unlike anything I have seen before in film, their appearance was congruent with and supportive of the theories surrounding their existence and purpose.  Not to pick on Cowboys and Aliens or anything, but holy superfluous arms (the necessity of which was non-existent, by the way – unless exposing the one vulnerable part of the aliens’ body just to freak someone out with it’s extra phalanges is worth it) that alien was stupid looking. Here we have a creature – rendered both in CGI and practical effects, which is refreshingly simple and functional – with a menacing physicality.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Goonies and Monster Squad - films from my own childhood – Attack the Block struck that particular chord of adolescent familiarity while simultaneously bringing something fun and new to the genre. It’s commentary on the socio-economic  class divide is present as a service to the story and exists organically, without being didactic. Every element of the film has a reason to be there, without excess or getting bogged down – it’s the kind of economic movie-making that I think tends to thrive within the constraints of lower-budget films. It’s such a treat to see genuinely creative and smart decisions resulting from those kinds of boundaries.

Also?  The film is just a blast.





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