Review: Attack the Block

Attack the Block - The Gang
Attack the Block (2011)

Attack the Block - Australian poster

Director: Joe Cornish

Runtime: 97  minutes

StarringJohn BoyegaJodie WhittakerNick Frost

Distributor: Icon

Country: UK

RatingHighly Recommended (?)

More info

Aliens have had a bad run of luck in their repeated attempt to conquer the Earth. No matter what they throw at the city of Los Angeles, the traditional first port of call for all extraterrestrial visitors to our humble rock, it keeps rebuilding itself and finding that one weakness that the visitors persistently build into their otherwise unstoppable conquering monoliths. Despite what must be a death toll in the hundreds of thousands by now, our friends from another world have had it relatively easy, for they have yet to face the citizens of London’s council flats.

Shortly after Moses (John Boyega, Junkhearts) and his gang attempt to mug Sam (Jodie Whittaker, One Day) on Bonfire Night in South London, an object crashes into a parked car. Something is alive in there, and the boys do what they think is best: follow it to a local park and beat the life out of it. Taking the creature to their dealer friend Ron (Nick Frost, Paul), they soon discover that they have unleashed all hell when the alien horde pursues them across the council flats.

The so-hot-right-now-it-hurts Joe Cornish, thanks to his work on The Adam and Joe Show and co-writer of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, has created a satirical look at both the sci-fi genre and the popular perception of British youth culture unlike any other. Although Attack the Block came out in the UK back in May, it arrives in Australia in the wake of the August 2011 London riots, where the same youth culture was poked and prodded across the tabloids and broadsheets alike. The initial joke is an obvious, but no less hilarious, one: if aliens arrived in South London there would be no mashed-potato mountains. They’d have the shit kicked out of them.

This is no one-joke film though, as Attack the Block cleverly takes all of the expected conventions and turns them on their head. Sam is our ambassador into this world initially, but she soon becomes the anachronism: these streets belong to the youth, and they will be damned if aliens are going to take it from them. It’s probably no mistake then that the leader of this ragtag group of rebels is named Moses. There are, of course, caricatures amongst them, from Frost and Luke Treadaway’s (Killing Bono) stoners, the scrawny white wannabe Pest (Alex Esmail) and local boss Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). Yet they are not what we would “expect”, especially when they accuse Sam of swearing too much.

Stylish and dark from the beginning, it would be too easy to proclaim this as the Shaun of the Dead for the alien invasion genre. It certainly shares a certain comic vibe to it, but there is a beat all of its own that gives Attack the Block a much darker edge. The hulking black masses that attack the block such all the light out of the room, and even in direct light retain their unearthly darkness. It’s a unique take on creatures, and one that makes Attack the Block as unexpectedly frightening as it is hilarious.

All too often a film is said to have a hip-hop vibe, as though that is a catch-all for anything “street”. Here it is the most apt description, with a rhythm and flow to the language that is undeniably a South London-based beat. Perhaps Biggz (Simon Howard) says it best: “I’m killing ’em, I’m killing ’em straight”. Even better is a line that captures not just the tone of the film, but perhaps taps into the zeitgeist of a generation: “This is too much madness to explain in one text”.

Filled with a cast of remarkable young actors, playing against more recognisable faces in Frost and Whittaker, Cornish proves that comedy, a low budget and action are not only compatible, but in his hands they are the perfect combination for an instant cult classic. We have already seen that he is capable of penning a bigger budget action script withThe Adventures of Tintin, and Attack the Block gives the promise of a huge career behind the camera as well.

Genuinely funny and frightening all at the same time. Allow it.