Monday, 16 May 2011

Attack the Block: Homeboys and Aliens

If you'd told me, back in the day, that one half of the bedroom-based comedy duo Adam & Joe would one day be working with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson and directing movies of his own which didn't involve cuddly toys and action figures... Well, I probably would've said "Chinny reckon!" or some other such archaic schoolyard denial. Come to think of it, I'd probably have said the same about the director of "Braindead" making "Lord of the Rings", but that's besides the point.

So Cornish follows Richard Ayoade in the leap from small-screen funster to big-screen megaphone-shouter, but his film is far from the warm, stylised introspection of "Submarine".

"Attack the Block" is the tale of a bunch of what you may refer to as "chavs", but I prefer to call "scrotes"; basically a gang of teenaged scummers on a London council estate. When their night of loitering and mugging is interrupted by an alien falling from the sky, all hell breaks loose in and around their tower block.

If you've seen the trailers, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was the new "Shaun of the Dead", but that is a bizarre piece of misdirection on the part of the marketing team. This is a tight, pacey sci-fi thriller with a sense of humour, but it is by no means a comedy.

Neither is it a slave to pop-culture references, Cornish allowing his cinematic influences to inform the film rather than dominate it. Most of the comedy derives from character and the incongruity of the situation the people are faced with.

The young cast make a good impact, spouting often impenetrable street-speak like naturals, with particular standouts being Alex Esmail's cocky Pest and John Boyega coming on like a black, teenage Jason Statham as the pack-leader, Moses. They are backed up by Nick Frost as an amiable dope-dealer, Luke Treadaway as a middle-class stoner, and Jodie Whittaker as a young nurse whose night begins with being mugged and goes downhill from there.

It's certainly not a perfect film, following some typical sci-fi/horror story-beats and logic-leaps, but it is zesty and punchy enough to engage for its duration.

A criticism that has been levelled is that, after witnessing the boys threatening and robbing Whittaker in the opening scene, it is impossible to root for or care about them throughout the rest of the film. I would argue that perhaps the true strength of the film is in showing us the side of these people we may be familiar with - hooded, intimidating figures on darkened streets - in the early scenes, before slowly and subtly humanising them til we see them as what they truly are: scared, confused, selfish, angry kids, trapped in a situation they have little to no control over.

But, lest we get bogged down in socio-political commentary, it must be re-stated that this is a fun, fast ride with thrills, chuckles, a few surprises and bags of ambition, which is only occasionally hampered by the constraints of the dinky budget.


  1. I can't wait to see this, looks rad. Good review, about what I expected to hear.

  2. Wow, sounds radical! Hope it gets here soon. Damn!

  3. Mass, was waiting on yr review for this one.