ATTACK THE BLOCK Review
Joe Cornish's feature film debut, Attack the Block, is a both a throwback to young teen adventure films of the 1980s, and an update of them, in thrill, chills, and language. Set in a run-down council estate in South London, a young gang of boys discovers an alien that has inadvertently crashed on Earth. They manage to kill it, but then find themselves and other residents of their apartment block set upon by even more aliens, all the while trying to avoid the local drug dealer for whom they work.
Cornish has his finger on the pulse of the local dialect and slang (and no, subtitles are not necessary; that which cannot be exactly understood can be easily extrapolated.) No one knows the block like these kids, and the camera follows them about the space with great speed and fury. The setting changes every few minutes it seems, echoing the frenetic lives of kids who have everywhere and nowhere to go. Now, they have everywhere and nowhere to hide. Each plays to their few strengths (fireworks, mad jumping skills) to outrun the aliens who just keep coming.
And what aliens they are - one of the best renditions I've seen in a long time. They are as black as the space they come from, with mouths and teeth that rival the creatures from Alien. These are not sentient beings, but animals with nothing but the instinct to fight. They take down cops and drug dealers, but the kids are able to escape due to their instinct for survival and their knowledge of their territory. They're afraid, all right, but Cornish keeps the pace cranked up so there is no time to stop and think; just protect yourself and the block.
Is sympathy with, or at least support of, main characters in a film necessary for enjoyment? Likely this depends on the film. In the case of this film, it is essential. This is not just an ordinary group of kids: it's a gang of young criminals who regularly mug locals. And proceed to behave like little shits for much of the film. Living in London, I know these kids exist, and yes, their lives are certainly fairly hopeless. And by the end of the film they redeem themselves somewhat. But it takes a long time to come, and they never quite win me over. But this is likely my personal taste; I've no doubt that many will find these kids heroic throughout the film. The two main characters, Moses the gang leader (Joe Boyega) and the mugging victim Sam (Jodie Whittaker) frequently look like they should be in a social realist drama as oppose to a sci fi comedy. Not to say that they're bad, far from it. Boyega especially oozes talent. But given that this is a comedy, they often feel out of place.
But perhaps I'm knit-picking. This is a fun and enjoyable film, with some great action sequences, and a unique setting. Nick Frost and Luke Treadwell, as a dealer and a stoner respectively, provide some great one-liners. At 87 minutes, Cornish knows exactly how much to give his audience, never wasting a frame. I was never completely engaged, but was very entertained.