‘Attack the Block’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated July 30th, 2011 at 8:50 am,

Review of Attack The Block Attack the Block Review

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.

The Gang of Attack The Block Attack the Block Review

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.

 Attack the Block Review

Moses and the gang in 'Attack the Block'

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.

The Aliens of Attack The Block Attack the Block Review

There's an alien in the weed room.

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:

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5
(Must-See)

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  1. I’d watch it

  2. Definitely checking this out. Wish they would of put some of the triphop-funk in the trailer though.

  3. looks aweosme

  4. After reading this review I regret passing on screening this a month ago. Damn, damn, damn!

  5. I can only hope it opens up near me. I have had little interest in any of the big-budget, no-heart, no-soul, no-mind blockbusters that have come out as late, but I’ve been wanting to see this.

    When does Hollywood learn that throwing $200 million or more into a budget doesn’t automatically make for a good movie. In fact, there are times when the bloated budget is part of the problem. Creativity and quality often come out of having to work with smaller budgets.

  6. YES! I knew this was special from the trailer but ppl doubted it. Love these kind of character driven films.

  7. very excited to see this!

  8. Def gonna check it out!

  9. Saw it yesterday, loved it. :)

  10. I guess I’m just too much of an old fuddy duddy because that just looked really silly. Plus I’ve never liked stories where they take totally unlikable scumbags and try to turn them into heroes.

    • Modern TV/Movies must be hell for you then, Thandrale.

      Mobsters
      Drug Dealers
      Assassins
      Bad Cops
      Shallow Immoral Businessmen

      Pretty much everything you see above is the basis for a popular movie and/or TV show. A couple of punk kids who commit one mugging isn’t that bad, in comparison.

      • It’s difficult for me to understand why anyone would want to spend time with such people even in a movie. You certainly wouldn’t want to be around them in real life.

        I like stories about good people facing some problem and overcoming it instead of sleazoids who just take the easy way out or are overcome and destroyed. They have to have some likability to them.

        This is for the main character now. For the villain or secondary characters you can go as evil as you want but I’ve got to have a lead I can root for.

        • Geez man, try to keep an open mind. First of, it’s just a movie. Second, “good” people always have faults, no one is perfect. Third, complex, multi-layered and anti-heroes are always fascinating to watch. They’re more realistic (as I mentioned before, “good” people are not so good).

          (how old are you btw?)

          • Anti-heroes are okay but today they try to pass off out and out villains and criminals as main characters. I just don’t care what happens to those characters. It either bores me or depresses me so why watch.

        • Once you see the movie the kids get better there not all bad

      • It is difficult. That’s why I love old movies and SF and fantasy. Now if they’d just bring the western heroes back.

        • Well, to each his own. I like stories where the “bad guy” does something heroic at the end to save everyone, something of that nature. I hate “black and white” (figure of speech) movies where the good guy is just the good guy. It’s unrealistic.

          We live in a frucked up world where the criminals that do the damage are not the dealers, gangsters, etc but the politicians and the white collar criminals that get away with their crimes. So I would rather root for some kid from the projects than a seemingly “good” guy with a family and a house and the perfect life that goes to his job as a CEO and helps bankrupt the whole country.

          Going off the subject here…I like all sorts of characters as long as the acting is good.

  11. Gritty British humor FTW!

    Will see if in area.

    • Attack the Spam. (@ “plipz”)

  12. I saw this last week. And I’m starting to believe the writer of this article is a close friend of one of the film makers. This film was utter garbage. It was Skyline with a lower budget.

    If you’ve seen one alien movie, you’ve seen them all.

    • @Paulen.

      You’re just another misguided soul who believes that if a reviewer has a different opinion than them, that reviewer must be ‘in the pocket’ of the studio or filmmakers. You have about a thousand clones out there who also say the same thing – which is a high number of people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

  13. I’m not gonna say that Kofi is friends with the guy who made it considering it’s generally being praised by more than just him.

    I’ll say I simply don’t get the appeal at all. To me the acting really wasn’t that impressive at all it was really just ok. Some of the kids were really lacking IMO. The Movie got very very cheesy very often. I rolled my eyes more than I appreciated a moment in the film.

    I’ve enjoyed TV shows and movies where the characters were spotty in personality but some how likable. I didn’t find it in this film. The main character especially never came off as likable just a thug dbag with a terrible violent streak. The supporting characters were a little better some were even likable. However, the big turn that makes the character supposedly more of a good guy was totally unbelievable. unbelievable thigns are fine in a movie when it’s things like Aliens or killer robots, but deep down characters and development have to be believable. Not at all the case in attack the block. It was very forced IMO.

    I personally hated the soundtrack as well, but it’s simply not my style of music and if that’s the kind of music your in to you would of course love the sound track. So I don’t feel right trashing it. I do however, like scifi , good acting, great characters and character development so I feel fine critiquing the film. I simply don’t see the appeal to me it’s no better than Battle LA.

    I would say this about the two films.

    Excitement: Battle LA
    Acting: Battle LA
    Plot: Tie
    Dialogue: Attack The Block (Battle LA had the worse Dialogue ever)
    Subtext/depth: Attack The Block
    Character Development: Battle LA (wasn’t much but at least it was believable in Battle LA)
    Characters: Tie (Battle LA had believable characters, but little variety. Attack the block more variety but unbelievable )

    in the end I’d probably give it a 2.5 out of 5

    If you like Cheesy 80s movies You may like it. If Acting isn’t that important You may like this. If you don’t mind totally unbelievable character development you may like this. Only real positive things I have to say is the dialogue is believable, they tried to make a film with more substance than most, it didn’t rely on SFX and while the acting IMO isn’t great it’s passable certainly not Bad. Beats watching Paul Walker in.. Well anything.

    Also for those who may be evil downloading scum bags like my self it will take a long time because it’s not wide spread best I could find was 11 seeders. Took awhile even with my fast connection.

  14. The movie look awful. Cheese special effects with puppet looking monsters. Remind me of “Critters” movies, Well I just to like those silly movies. And the heroes? Just a bunch of scomebags? I hope the movie has some heart if not I pass.

  15. I really enjoy the comedy that Joe Cornish is known for here in the UK so I was really hyped up to see this when it came out months ago in the UK
    It’s an enjoyable film that does well to expose life on the estates of London (very topical this week!). Unfortunately, there aren’t really any lessons learned and I still think all of the kids would stab you in the neck for a bag of chips.

    That aside, it is funny, with great effects, well acted and directed. If you like Kick-Ass & Scott Pilgrim this should be right up your street. The aliens look great, kind of a cross between a gorilla and the Wheelers from “Return to Oz”. However, I thought there would be a lot of jump moments but my wife & I are obviously tougher than I though :) I’m sure this will go down as a cult classic with the youth of today.

  16. The protagonists in this film are archetypal for the wild hoodlums now rioting in London! haha

  17. Great! Where can I get/see this? I assume it can not be bought here in Sweden, so I might just have to get it in the states.

  18. OK! So I saw this in the only theatre that was showing it around my area. This low budget movie has alot to offer. And the actors in this are some of the best newcomers to the scene. This movie had a good story line from comedy to dramatic story telling. From the begining I loved the characters because they all had their own personality and I kind of cared for them when they were in danger. Lots of movies dont get me into to caring about the cast but in this movie it did. I am very glad that i finally saw this movie and to me it was one of the best movies I have seen this year. Its in my top 10.

  19. Essentially Attack the Block an archetypal genre film were a tough unit of criminals find moral redemption through doing the right thing, crossed with a science fiction creature feature. It isn’t social realism. It just so happens that these are a teenage Wild Bunch or Magnificent Seven in London rather than bank robbers and killers in the wild west.
    I like it a lot.

  20. Highly recommend this movie,cool looking aliens too,loved the black and the glows of the eyes and teeth.

  21. LOVED IT!!

  22. This is comedy-horror at its best. It’s up there with Tremors. It’s a contender for best horror film of the year.

    There’s a few more months to complete my top ten list.

  23. Finally got to see this. I live in London and these characters have a ring of authenticity to them, but overall I didn’t find the film especially involving, original, tense or even funny. Kofi, “a young nurse named Sam, who gets into a scuffle with the gang’s leader” is a slightly odd way of describing her being surrounded and robbed at knifepoint – regardless of the line from one of them later about how they were just as scared as she was, the knife was just for show to get it over with quicker etc etc.

    Having said that, I thought John Boyega invested the character of Moses with a stoicism and inner strength beyond his youth and inexperience. I liked the soundtrack a lot, and thought the unnatural, artificial colour compositions with which the concrete exteriors were lit was outstanding. The cinematography belied the low budget, and Joe Cornish made the nighttime streets come alive – in more ways than one – even if he ultimately didn’t do anywhere near enough with the premise, or leave himself with anywhere unpredictable to actually go.

  24. Clearly a tongue-in-cheek film along the lines of Hot Fuzz et al.

    Unfortunately this type of humour is often lost in Hollywood and Stateside in general.

    After watching this, I immediately thought of American’s not understanding the humour and believing it was a low-budget film trying to be something it wasn’t….hence the first website I jump on provides such evidence.

    I think certainly you have to be from an English background (how exactly do you have a ‘British accent’ by the way’!?), to fully appreciate the self-deprecating tipping of the hat towards the annoying chav characters we all come across in the UK.

    Even so, I can’t see how it isn’t patently obvious that this film is soaked in satire and the thriller/horror/sci-fi elements are there as self-indulgent second fiddles.

    Don’t like a film, great, that’s what makes forums/blogs so diverse. But at least be able to judge it for what it is, rather than make direct comparisons to movies completely out of context.

    The fact is many British films aren’t made with ridiculous amounts of cash (we prefer to pay this to Premiership footballers) in order to create a certain picture, not because the money isn’t available.

    Sigh.

  25. Loved this movie. ATB is definitely the sleeper-hit of the year. I can’t remember the last time I saw an action/comedy movie that felt this fresh and unique. We had a lot of good things to say about the movie as well, check out our review on WRECKED: http://wp.me/p1iCBb-Ml

  26. saw it in cinema, and bought the disc, amazing film, and the slang used is real stuff people like that use every day. i live in london btw. one of the best films released in a while.

  27. Saw this recently, and well…you know I love you guys, but there’s no way I’da given this four and a half stars…MAYBE three. I’m not sure whether or not this was trying to be campy/cheesy or a legitimate action/comedy movie, but if was the latter, I’d have to say it failed. If it was the former, then it was supremely successful. Maybe I couldn’t connect with the British humor (though, that’s usually not the case), or maybe the pitch-black mouthy dog-things were just a little too dumb for me, but I was wholly unimpressed with this film. And while I kept trying to feel for the main character and get into his development…I just couldn’t.

  28. Was a good movie, clear and clear. Had alot of heart.

  29. It was a good movie but a bit unrealistic apart from the aliens. I mean how couldn’t America or Russia detect multiple projectiles penetrating the atmosphere and apart from that how couldn’t the RAF notice them in British airspace, that kinda ruined it for me a little bit.

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