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Movie Review: Attack the Block

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In an age where alien invasion movies are all the rage (we’ve already had Battle: Los Angeles this year, with the likes of Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Cowboys & Aliens on the way this summer), it’s going to be hard to truly stand out from the crowd. But along comes new Brit sci-fi/horror/action/comedy/ mash-up Attack the Block and does just that.

TV presenter turned film writer and director Joe Cornish brings us this refreshingly entertaining tale of an alien invasion on a block of flats in south London. We specifically follow a group of young hoodlums, along with a few other people who live nearby, as they try to not only live through the attack but actively defend themselves with whatever weapons they can find.

Following in the footsteps of Brit horror comedies such as Shaun of the Dead (the good), The Cottage (the bad) and Lesbian Vampire Killers (the ugly), Attack the Block is a clever mix of sci-fi mayhem, savvy gags and genuinely thrilling action sequences that rival anything that the clearly more expensive Hollywood blockbusters can throw at the genre. This year’s Battle: Los Angeles – a film I loved, even if it is admittedly a bit one-note – handled the well trodden alien invasion sub-genre with brute force but Attack the Block does things that are altogether more interesting, and ultimately more rewarding.

The quality of the film belies Cornish’s inexperience as a director. As a third of fourth outing for a filmmaker, never mind their first one, this is impressive stuff indeed, with a real handle on the madness that’s unfolding (madness that, as one character funnily points out, “is too much madness to explain in one text!”).

Keeping the action centred around the titular block of flats (those are apartments to my friends across the pond) with occasional ventures out to try and ward of the pesky invaders helps keep things under control. The film clearly wasn’t made with the same kind of money the big Hollywood studios have to play with but Cornish knows how to work around that, using not only his savvy and inventive script but the creative way in which he utilizes the aliens.

Speaking of the invaders, the very look of them is quite different to what we’ve seen before in this type of film. Although vaguely reminiscent of the relentless monsters found in Stephen King’s The Langoliers - because of the fact they appear to be absent of any light (“none more black,” as Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap would tell you) other than their glow-in-the-dark teeth – they’re entirely their own kind of beast, which only adds to the originality of the film as a whole. 

If I had any problems with the film that went beyond minor nitpicks it would be with the band of main characters we follow. Although there are a few characters we grow to care very much about, namely any character that’s not part of the gangs of hoodlums, most of them are inherently unlikeable. We are introduced to them as a typical South London tough-guy gang with hoods and scarves and knives, robbing a woman of her possessions in the middle of the street. And yet we are supposed to not just like them, but eventually care what happens to them. And while that endeavour is somewhat successful – more of a case of good kids doing bad things than the other way around – the film almost automatically expects you to care for them because all of a sudden there are way more important things going on. I suppose that’s understandable, but it didn’t stop it from bugging me throughout most of the film.

Having said that in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t really matter all that much as the rest of the film has so much to offer to make up for that. There might be some clichés and predictable moments along the way but you’ll probably be having too much fun to notice, much less actually care. This is a smart, highly enjoyable Brit flick that knows exactly what kind of movie it is and has a lot of fun with the sci-fi toys it has to play with, so to speak. With terrific performances from new and old faces alike (there’s a particularly good turn from Nick Frost as a drug dealer), this is a very impressive first feature from a writer/director that, if this is anything to go by, is one to watch for the future.

 

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