Attack the Block

Posted by Michael Parsons on August 19, 2011 in / No Comments


(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.

76373_galFor 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.

Attack the Block

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”.

Attack the Block

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.

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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