(This review was originally published on August 19, 2011 at The Rogers Revue)
If throwing caution to the wind and developing a few basic ideas for an inexpensive alien invasion comedy produces a film as entertaining as “Attack the Block” in the UK, it might be time for Hollywood to reach out to the Brits for some creative stimulus and perhaps even some financial advice.
For his feature film debut, writer/director Joe Cornish keeps the visual effects appropriately proportioned for the films trim $13 million budget, relying predominantly on his abilities as a sketch-comedy writer and a competent young cast to distribute the weight of his comedic muse. The result is an original, 88 minute buffet of imaginative filmmaking and expletive-riddled comic dialogue that deliberately maintains an organic tone instead of indulging in the camp of the typical B movie. Though stocked with the expected stupidity of a mixed genre petri dish, it overcomes in areas where others have failed.
The cast is a collection of veritable unknowns who syphon a niche from the remains of this years ‘alien invasion’ stockpile, a classic premise that has been squandered repeatedly by seasoned veterans and big studios alike. John Boyega plays Moses, a young alpha dog leading a gang of miscreant teenagers that rob and pillage their way through the streets of their South London neighborhood. Soon after the hoodlums accost a young woman on the street, a mysterious object plummets from the sky and decimates a car parked nearby, disrupting the mugging. As the woman promptly escapes, Moses investigates the wreckage of the vehicle only to be attacked by a small creature, presumably alien in nature. Moses immediately resolves to track down and ‘merck’ his extraterrestrial assailant, unaware of the impending alien deluge.
After a successful retaliation, Moses and his gang parade the alien cadaver back to their resident drug dealer Ron (Nick Frost) whose penthouse is equipped with a ‘weed room’ and optimal view of the south side of city. In hopes of turning some sort of a profit off his conquest, Moses approaches street gang hierarchy Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), a lanky, amoral kingpin who spouts gangsta rap in comic and abusive fashion. There they inadvertently cross paths with Brewis (Luke Treadaway) a random pothead whose intentions go no further than getting high, listening to hip-hop and wondering what’s going on. After the descent of multiple atmospheric projectiles and the emergence of larger, more aggressive extraterrestrial beings, the kids split to their respective homes to gather weapons and head out on the offensive. Meanwhile, Moses is arrested in transit and hauled in to a police van where a female nursing student named Sam (Jodie Whittaker) positively IDs him from the earlier mugging.
What ensues is just the right balance of nonsense, intelligence and creativity as three unlikely parties are forced to form an alliance against the rapidly growing alien threat. Flavored with more slang, sarcasm and profane banter than any film in recent memory, “Attack the Block” secures its own place in a sub genre of filmmaking that hopefully will inspire other independent studios to chart new territory. The creature effects are about the only conservative aspect of the film, portrayed as pitch black silhouettes contrasted with neon stalactite-sized teeth, purposefully cloaked in darkness and smoke filled hallways, an effective creative measure by Cornish to protect the film from the embarrassing and overzealous use of CGI that other films too often succumb to.
Undoubtedly influenced by the work of fellow writer/director Edgar Wright, there is certainly less emphasis on graphics than either “Shaun of the Dead” or “Hot Fuzz” (in which Cornish had small acting roles), and potentially drawing a younger audience with its main characters. Intensified by Steven Prices’s cerebral and acidic score vaguely reminiscent of mid 90′s Dust Brothers, “Attack the Block” stays level through a crazy amalgam of “District B13”, “Pitch Black”, “Repo Man” and “Goonies”.
This is a film that improves as it develops, contrary to many genre hybrids, and never feels the need to complicate its plot. Despite some sillier moments at the beginning, the seemingly despicable characters display an increasing level of humanity and redemption as they selflessly protect their block while the situation with the formidable visitors worsens. Horror and sci-fi aside, “Attack the Block” is an aggressive comedy that sustains itself with its quick, punchy dialogue and a slew of memorable one-liners that will undoubtedly garner a cult following from both sides of the pond.