ATTACK THE BLOCK Review
While you’ll see “from the producers of Shaun of the Dead” printed on the adverts for Attack of the Block (along with Nick Frost’s schlubby face), Atb is in another league of genre-bending film exported from Britain. What makes AtB shine brighter than other Edgar Wright productions is that it takes its location, characters, and the invasion genre very seriously. It turns increasingly grim later in the film as the stakes are raised. And it works on every level. Bathed in attitude, rapid-fast chav slang, and plenty of humor, it’s an utterly confident debut from director Joe Cornish.
On a dodgy block in the South London council estates, a group of teen hoods are celebrating Guy Fawkes Night by mugging Sam (Jodie Whittaker). During their crime, an alien falls from the sky and into a nearby parked car. Instead of running off, the leader of the gang, Moses (John Boyega), decides to investigate and is attacked by the feral little bastard. The chavs chase the baddie and kill it; parading it’s corpse back to their block like an elk fit to feed the whole village. Unsure what to do with it – but certain it’ll bring a payday from some kind of news outlet – they bring the corpse to Ron (Nick Frost), the block’s drug management middle man. Shortly after, more baddies are crashing in South London and the boys mount up to defend their turf.
At Ron’s apartment the faces and personalities of the boy’s finally come into the light. This gang, that no more than five minutes ago was robbing a defenseless woman, snatching her engagement ring no less, is suddenly charming – relatable even. This is where Cornish gently pokes you with a dose of social commentary. We find that these kids are just trying to get by in the harsh South London cosmos they were born into. They’re young and bored and even admit to being shook when they mugged Sam. There’s a montage when they split up to gather weapons from their flats – bats, kitchen knives, chains – and we’re given brief glimpses into their home lives. Some are humorous, some hard.
Across the board, the kids kill it. This is the first gig for a lot of them so there was some risk involved on the part of the filmmakers, but it paid off in spades. John Boyega, as Moses, is the stoic, older brother figure to the gang, and any harm to the gang falls heavily on his shoulders. This kid’s got a future, believe. Cornish spent quite a bit of time researching the youth culture in South London and it shows in the authenticity of the characters. The way they dress, walk, and especially the way they talk. At first the slang comes at you so rapidly that it can be difficult to understand. But you’ll catch on quick.
A good portion of the action sequences take place inside the flats and hallways of the apartment complex, which gives the scenes a claustrophobia ala Alien. One scene in particular, my favorite in the film, has the gang pursuing an alien after setting off two massive fireworks in a hallway. The colored smoke is thick and makes the hallway seem like an alien planet. The final action sequence (in beautiful slo-mo) is incredibly cinematic and doesn’t show Cornish’s inexperience shooting action one bit.
My only problem is Nick Frost. I understand that audiences sometime need a familiar face before they’ll buy into a film, but his character was completely useless and even obstructed the pace of some of the action scenes. Cornish’s background is in comedy, so that’s always under the film’s more serious surface, but Frost’s tired “I’m confused and naive” act is unnecessary here.
Halfway through 2011 I’m gonna go ahead and say Attack the Block will definitely be in my top 10, probably even top 5. It’s a grimy sci-fi-action-comedy-horror perfect storm and I can’t recommend it to the OL readers enough. Trust.