Attack the Block

Attack the Block

John Boyega looks uncertain but his future doesn’t.

(2011) Science Fiction (Sony Classics) John Boyega, Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Luke Treadaway, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Gina Antwi, Natasha Williams, Paige Meade, Maggie McCarthy, Franz Drameh, Michael Ajao, Sammy Williams, Karl Collins, Jumayn Hunter, Danielle Vitalis. Directed by Joe Cornish


In any invasion, people will defend their home territory with the kind of ferocity usually associated with rabid wolverines. For some odd reason, that ferocity increases the worse the neighborhood is. In fact, the kinds of places you wouldn’t want to walk alone in after dark are the places that are most fiercely defended by their inhabitants.

Walking alone after dark in a bad neighborhood though is precisely what Sam (Whittaker), a young nurse does. It’s a bad idea, even though the neighborhood is the one that Sam happens to live in and of course she’s approached by five thugs, led by the charismatic Moses (Boyega). They force her to give up her wallet and things look like they might just get worse for her when there’s an explosion – a meteorite hits a nearby car.

Normally that would attract a lot of attention, but it happens to be Guy Fawkes Day in England and there are fireworks going up like it’s the apocalypse – which it kinda is. You see it wasn’t just a meteorite; there was a creature in it. When Moses goes to investigate, the creature scratches up his face. Where Moses comes from (the block housing of South London) that’s a no-no, so Moses chases down the creature and kills it, allowing Sam to get away.

Soon there are more meteorites falling all over London and inside them are these…things, kind of like a cross between wolves and bears with glowing teeth (in fact, throughout the movie they are mistaken for big dogs) but these things can hover, as well as climb up sheer walls – and rip human flesh to shreds.

Moses and his gang have a lot more than an alien invasion to deal with; Sam called the cops on them so they are dodging the police, and they have brokered a deal with Hi-Hat (Hunter) to sell some pot grown by Ron (Frost), whose apartment contains a hothouse for growing the wacky weed that’s as secure as Fort Knox (in fact it is here where Moses leaves the body of the dead alien for safekeeping), but that deal is going south as Hi-Hat suspects that Moses is planning to start carving out his own territory in the Blocks – and where Hi-Hat comes from that’s a REALLY BIG no-no.

Moses and his crew – Pest (Esmail), Jerome (Jones), Dennis (Drameh) and Biggz (Howard) are now beset on all sides by angry cops, angry drug dealers and angry aliens, not to mention an angry nurse who now must ally with them in order to protect herself from the aliens. It’s going to be a long night…

Most alien invasion movies of late have been pretty awful, to say the least. This is one of the few bright spots. It’s fast-paced, clever, and well-written. Cornish, an English comedian who lived in this part of London, knows the rhythms of life there well and takes characters who are most often supporting cast, used to advance the plot or as designated victims. Here, we see their lives and their motivations more clearly. There’s a bit of social commentary inherent in that.

Cornish mostly cast newcomers or non-professionals, particularly in the teen roles. Most of them are about as well as can be expected with a couple rising above the rest – Esmail, as the aptly-named Pest, provides some counterpoint to the more brooding Moses and it is Boyega who seems to have the most potential. He reminds me of a young Denzel Washington; he has that kind of screen charisma and shows amply the ability to carry a film on his shoulders. He is both villainous and heroic in the same film; not in a 70s anti-hero kind of groove but more like a person growing and transitioning, doing what he has to survival-wise in an unforgiving element.

The creatures themselves are mostly practical effects, surprisingly – there is almost no CGI in this movie. They are amply intimidating and scary and they move in a lifelike manner (mostly because there are people in them thar suits). The explanation for their presence is pretty convincing; I appreciate that there were no government scientists to lead us by the nose; we’re as much in the dark as the kids on the block.

The movie starts off quickly and continues pretty much non-stop with action. The pacing is fast enough to keep us off-balance and to satisfy even the most attention-deficit afflicted. This is the kind of movie Battle: Los Angeles should have been but wasn’t.

WHY RENT THIS: A fun ride. Takes marginal characters and turns them into leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Somewhat amateurish at times. Slang can be hard to make out.

FAMILY VALUES:  The language is uniformly foul, there’s a good deal of violence and gore and some fairly scary alien creatures, plus some drug content; all in all, this ain’t no E.T.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The mugging scene at the beginning of the film actually happened to Joe Cornish; he noted that the five muggers looked as scared as he was and afterwards he looked into the lives of gang members in the area and began coming up with characters for the movie.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Considering that the film wasn’t what you’d call a big financial success, the DVD got a goodly amount of features on it, including an outtakes reel of the cast attempting to rap (with varying results) and storyboards of scenes that weren’t filmed for budgetary and scheduling issues.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.8M on a $13M production budget; the movie lost money during its theatrical run.


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