ATTACK THE BLOCK Review:
I know that the geekier corners of the internet have been singing the praises of ATTACK THE BLOCK for what seems like forever now, but I am here to tell you to believe the hype. It's not often that a wholly original, wholly awesome genre movie comes along, and so when it does, it's cause to celebrate. And yes, Attack the Block is a movie worth celebrating, worth geeking out about. Because it's one of those movies that just smacks you in the face with its badassery, and one that makes the most of its modest budget - instead of relying on expensive CGI, it instead uses good, old-fashioned creativity to stand out from the pack. And you know what? Having seen a couple of other alien invasion movies this summer alone, Attack the Block's got the grooviest, scariest aliens of 'em all. And the best, most memorable characters. The funniest moments. The dialogue that will be quoted and requoted until the end of time. The scenes that will make you cheer and laugh and get you giddy. No, I don't think this is a perfect movie or anything like that ... but I do think it's such a breath of fresh air that yeah, all of the hype is, I think, more than justified.
The premise of Attack the Block is simple - aliens have invaded a poor slum of London, and it's up to a ragtag group of teen gangsters to protect their home and fend off the E.T.'s. But what's great about the film is how it gives so much depth to such a basic premise. On one level, the movie works as a comedy in the vein of Shawn of The Dead or Hot Fuzz. Though it isn't parodying a specific genre per se, the movie is definitely a pastiche of indluences from 80's John Carpenter movies to sci-fi and horror-comedies like Gremlins and The Goonies. There's a definite, 80's feel to the film, with a Carpenter-esque synth score and the same type of moody lighting and atmosphere that Carpenter was known for. There's also that mix of drama, violence, and black comedy that was in movies like They Live and Escape From New York. It's a great combo, and even as the movie has you cracking up with laughter, it'll have you on the edge of your seat.
But, aside from the comedy and the action, Attack the Block rather brilliantly works as a character study, in that it slowly but surely shifts our sympathies towards the delinquent kids at the center of its story. Director Joe Cornish takes a big chance with this movie, in that he starts out by making his lead kids out to be unsympathetic thugs. In fact, our first encounter with them is seeing the gang mug a helpless woman. But man, what a cast of kid and teen actors. It's not long before their humor and charm starts to win us over. At the same time, give huge credit to actor John Boyega as Moses, the sullen leader of the gang. This is a star-making turn for him, because without speaking a ton, we see in his face the transition from leader of a gang to a leader of men. Once he realizes that he can use his powers of badassery for good, so to speak, well, it's one of those hero-making turns that you've gotta love and cheer for. The cast of kids as a whole though is, like I said, superb - and totally hilarious. The banter between them, though at times a little hard to understand (they've all got thick London gangsta accents - think Ali G), is oftentimes funny as hell - and it pulls no punches in terms of being vulgar, obscene, and just plain wrong. And by the way, the one real recgnizable face in this one is Nick Frost from Shawn of the Dead, Paul, etc. - and he's great as always, as an oblivious drug dealer who gets caught up in all the alien invasion madness.
Aside from Boyega and the other kids though, the star of the movie is director Joe Cornish. Cornish is a friend / protege of Edgar Wright (who served as exec producer on the film), and it shows. Cornish shares Wright's knack for kinetic action, inventive visuals, and high drama even in the midst of absurdist comedy. Cornish ensures that Attack is a nonstop thrillride from start to finish, rarely letting up for a moment - but he also squeezes in a ton of character in between all the action and horror and hijinks. The fact that each of the kids in the gang is so memorable and distinct and full of personality is a testament to the actors, sure, but also to the script and to Cornish's ability to infuse the movie with character and wit. Where Cornish also excels is in the sci-fi aspect of the movie. Clearly, this is a low-budget flick. But Cornish makes that an asset, because man, the aliens in this movie look BADASS. I mean, how many movies lately feature aliens that are utterly generic and unmemorable? Many. So little premium these days is placed on creative creature design - everyone just wants their aliens to look like they got ripped out of the latest hot first person shooter game or something. But no, not Attack the Block. Here, the aliens are these insane-looking balls of blackhole-like blackness with these devilish blue, glowing, neon eyes. And they jump and fly around like Kirby's cousins from hell. And they are awesome. This is a throwback to the days of Carpenter and Spielberg and Gremlins - when it wasn't about who had the slickest CGI, but who had the coolest, weirdest creatures.
Attack the Block is one of those movies that you should run out and see and support, and then probably see again and buy on DVD or blu-ray. This is going to be one of those geek-cred movies that if you haven't seen, well, clearly you're not in the loop and you haven't been hanging with the cool kids. But the movie isn't necessarilly niche - in fact, it's got a little something for everyone - action, comedy, cool creatures and hilarious kids. It's got madcap British humor, but it's also got some real meat on them bones - it works as a crazy comedy, but also as a coming-of-age tale about kids who go from zeros to heroes, from boys to men - who learn that there's more purpose to life than just being a thug and being bad. But most of all, this is quite simply an insanely fun, scrappy sci-fi action/comedy that puts most of its bigger-budget, bigger-hyped summer competition to shame. Allow it! Go see Attack the Block and support kickass genre filmmaking at its finest.
My Grade: A-