Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Attack the Block
Attack the Block is an unlikely contender in the currently overcrowded ring of alien invasion flicks – which are all fighting for success at the box office (particularly the U.S. box office). The film has no real headlining stars (a small appearance by Paul star Nick Frost is about as famous as it gets); it was shot on a small budget; the main characters are a gang of young, unapologetic hoodlums; plus, they’re young hoodlums who speak in thick British accents, while dropping slang that requires Urban Dictionary to decipher.
So the question then becomes: how does this foreign indie genre flick do so well what so many big-budget Hollywood genre flicks do so poorly, so often?
Answer: by simply telling an enjoyable story, in a refreshing way. Oldest trick in the book.
The setup is this: A street gang in one of South London’s tougher “blocks” are out one night, up to their usual no-good-deeds. This time they happen to run across a young nurse named Sam (Jodie Whittaker), who gets into a scuffle over her ring with the gang’s leader, Moses (John Boyega). In the midst of the scuffle a strange object comes crashing down from the sky, and all of sudden, Moses’ would-be robbery has turned into a battle with a mysterious creature. Being the tough guys that they are, Moses and his gang chase the creature down and kill it – only afterward determining that the creature is most likely an alien. Not that the boys care, though: as far as they’re concerned, ET has landed in the wrong neighborhood.
However, “actions have consequences,” as the film later reminds us. Moses and the gangs’ close encounter sets into motion a chain of events that lands them in the crosshairs of the police, a local gangster, and of course, a whole swarm of invading aliens. On this night gone horribly wrong, “the block” is indeed under attack.
What sets this film high above so many others like it is the style that writer/director Joe Cornish (Ant-Man, Tintin) crafts it with. The smart story, authentic characters, hip dialogue, inventive filming choices (in place of big-budget spectacles), vibrant cinematography and even the techno-funk soundtrack, all work to create a cohesive and engrossing movie experience. This is a film that contains many familiar genre tropes (sci-fi/horror/urban-drama/comedy), yet also feels contemporary, fresh, and absolutely fun.
The characters (and the young actors playing them) get big props for making this film work. It’s a bold move to ask an audience to follow and care about a group of hard-headed young hoodlums, but the cast of young actors (Boyega in particular) do a great job of making their respective characters human and relatable, without compromising their rough-edged authenticity, or wallowing in melodrama.
Take Moses, for instance. He’s a roughneck who has inner nobility beneath his callous shell – a knucklehead who you almost believe would be a better person in another world. Only, Moses is in the world he’s in, and isn’t apologetic about the wrong he does in order to survive. Think a strong, silent, outlaw gunslinger type, transported into an urban setting. His foil is nurse Sam, a woman who has lived in “the block” all her life, despite the dangers, and still sees a distinct line between right and wrong. The sub-plot with her and Moses going from predator and victim to friends adds a level of grounded meaning and subtext to this otherwise over-the-top story.
The supporting cast in this film are keep things light and fun from moment to moment. Those supporting players include Moses’ fellow gang members (the pot-head, the geek, the asshole, etc…) and “locals” like a dope-headed weed dealer (Nick Frost), his fish-out-of-water upper-class client (Luke Treadaway), a psycho gangster/wannabe rapper (Jumayn Hunter), and two “baby gangsters,” who spend the film trying to earn their reps on the block (in truly hilarious ways).
One might worry that this urban world which Cornish imbues with such life would be compromised by the sci-fi/horror/comedy tropes that get thrown into the mix, but this is not the case. Unlike other genre-mashing movies, the filmmakers do a good job pulling off the alien invasion by using what small resources they have to the utmost and making smart decisions. The aliens themselves are presented as big, oil-black “bear/dogs”, whose only discernible feature is a mouth of fangs lit-up like neon signs. This keeps the aliens mysterious and menacing, and saves the filmmakers the burden of having to create more detailed CGI creatures. The way the aliens almost ooze in and out of the shadows works perfectly in the urban environment, where there are nooks and shadows aplenty. It’s not the best effects work (not by a mile) but it is very effective in this context.
A good soundtrack is also a crucial ingredient in creating a good movie experience, and Attack the Block matches music to movie pretty much perfectly. House music duo Basement Jaxx, working with musician Steven Price, create a score for this film that is equal parts techno, hip-hop and funk; it amplifies the authentic feeling of the urban world the film is set in, while keeping the necessary tension pulsing throughout the proceedings. Definitely one of those soundtracks you want to keep bobbing your head to, long after the credits roll.
In the end, this is a film that is just fun to experience. The small-budget production values lend it a 1980s nostalgia, which is hard not to appreciate if you’re one of those people who grew up watching movies like Gremlins. Add in the modern urban edge, entertaining characters, and a story that manages to be clever on top of fun, and you have a movie that some big-budget filmmakers should look to before trying to push out another invasion flick that’s big on spectacle, but woefully lacking in enjoyment (see: Cowboys & Aliens – or rather, see Attack the Block instead).
Attack the Block is currently in limited release in the U.S. Check your local theaters for showtimes.
If you want to know more about the movie, watch the trailer below: