The ‘heroes’ of ‘Attack the Block’ barely warrant the label. They are a gang of South London street thugs, each one capable of generating hysterical headlines in the tabloid press. At the very start of the film, they harass a nurse called Sam (Jodie Whittaker) and relieve her of her jewellery at knife point. Little do they realise that they themselves will be in desperate need of Sam’s medical skills a few hours later. Some may take offence at any attempt to engage an audience’s sympathy for these little sods but that would be missing the point. By the end of this sci-fi action comedy, the bravado of Moses (John Boyega) and his mates has been tested thoroughly, lessons have been learned and ultimate sacrifices have been made.
In the warped universe of ‘Attack the Block,’ Sam is the moral compass. The majority of the other characters exist at differing levels of illegality. Moses and co commit petty crimes but behave as if they are big time gangsters. Ron (Nick Frost) grows and sells weed in his flat while, at the other end of the scale, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) is a genuine gun wielding psychopath. It is hugely ironic that this crew become the only thing protecting London from alien invasion. Mind you, it is largely their fault to begin with. When the first of the aliens drops from the sky, its arrival camouflaged by the fact that it is bonfire night, the boys hunt it down and kill it before planning to sell the corpse on E-Bay.
Soon the estate (with block names including Huxley House and Wyndham House for lovers of in-jokes) is crawling with other, more dangerous creatures out to recover the alien body and tear apart anybody who gets in their way. These are huge, bear-like entities with no discernable features except nasty, glow-in-the-dark teeth. The gang’s attempts to warn the locals are met with derision and the police blame them for the ensuing trail of destruction. So, it is up to the boys to gather up any weapons they can, from fireworks to samurai swords, and fight back against the invading menace.
‘Attack the Block’ is written and directed by Joe Cornish who is fifty per cent of the cult comedy duo Adam and Joe, as well as a shameless movie geek. Cornish has set out to emulate the style of fantasy films that he grew up with such as ‘Gremlins’, ‘The Goonies’ and ‘E.T.’ In those films, matters of great consequence were normally left up to kids to deal with whilst adults were, at best, an interfering nuisance and, at worst, part of the threat. Overall, Cornish has done a very nice job although it should be noted that ‘Attack the Block’ is not as family- friendly as some of the director’s templates. There is gore, profanity and some drug use in the film. Plus, I don’t remember Elliott from ‘E.T’ having a gun hidden in his bottom drawer. This film is not so much ‘The Goonies’ as ‘The Hoodies.’
None the less, Cornish has made a film with cross-generational appeal. Teenagers will possibly identify with the protagonists or at least be able to understand the slang-heavy dialogue. The late thirty and forty-somethings will feel a warm glow of nostalgia at the notion that a like-minded soul has managed to instil the spirit of their favourite childhood movies into a modern setting. ‘Attack the Block’ will not appeal to everybody but the potential audience should be enough to make it a sizeable hit at the box-office.
‘Attack the Block’ is set in a recognisable and socially relevant environment where the kids, all played by talented newcomers, are ready for battle having struggled most of their lives against authority and their own disadvantaged status. In their world, violence and crime are advocated by their role models as legitimate means of advancement. Underneath their toughness, they remain just kids. We are reminded of this each time one of the gang has to phone home to lie to their mother about what they are up to, or at the moment when Sam is shocked to learn of how old Moses actually is.
This is all subtext, for ‘Attack the Block’ is a rousing adventure which packs as much excitement as possible into its 88 minute running time. The film is also very funny, knowingly poking fun at the idea of how twenty-first century kids might deal with a threat which is straight out of a fifties B-movie. When one teenager is told to use his mobile to get help, he checks his credit before protesting that, “This is too much madness for one text!” Luke Treadaway is great as a middle-class rich kid who desperately wants to be cool but is as afraid of damaging his daddy’s car as he is of the aliens.
With a relatively small budget (eight million is considered small these days) Cornish is wise to make his monsters as obscure as he does but ‘Attack the Block’ is still visually impressive. The cinematographer, Thomas Townend, is making his feature debut with this film and he shows great promise using a mixture of smoke and shadows to create a suitably other worldly atmosphere. The film might well be a Hollywood calling card for Joe Cornish but he is already on his way having worked on the script for Spielberg’s upcoming version of ‘Tin Tin.’ For some geeks, dreams really do come true.
Director: Joe Cornish
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost