Central London, we join Sam (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home from work. She sees a gang of hooded kids, she crosses the road out of the way of the kids, but they close in and hold her up at knife point mugging her. Whilst this is happening, something crashes down into a nearby car destroying it. In the confusion, Sam runs away from the boys, leaving them to investigate what just happened. Leader of the boys, Moses, sticks his head in the car only for him to be viciously scratched. In the spur of the moment they retaliate and Moses decide that he has to kill this new found discovery. He parades off with his spoils of war ignorant to the fact that his actions have sparked a retaliation of bigger, stronger and much more vicious aliens. These aliens are out for revenge on the gang made up of Moses, Jerome, Dennis, Pest and Biggz. This is Attack the Block.
Of the back of the trailer many compared attack the block to Noah Clarke’s Kidulthood. This is fair enough but beyond face we have a comedy horror that uses many tropes of sci-fi and horror that dig deeper than those first impressions. Like the work of Wright, Frost and Pegg, Joe Cornish has directed and wrote a film with a great love and adulation for the films populated his childhood. Attack the Block references everything from Predator, Critters, Assault of Precinct 13, and the Goonies.
I feel that the Goonies reference is important when you consider that the people what this film celebrates is proving to be disgruntling for many, add to that the nature of the language used. The vocabulary that the young cast uses is a little impenetrable at times, but the longer the film goes on the more you understand it. This is nowhere near Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn in the league of comprehension. This is where the influence of the goonies comes in. In that film the kids where less than likeable but as the story developed they changed into people you want to spend time with, it’s through this that the film was made into the icon it is. The same is true of Attack the Block, through spending time with Moses and the boys you see that the gang persona is a facade as shown through the singular and therefore under-developed interactions with their parents. Underdeveloped it may be, the small parental roles serves the purpose of painting these people as children rather than the monsters like stated post-mugging. It’s through these developments and interactions that I feel that Nick Frosts character Ron is right, these kids are quite sweet, especially come the films end.
I enjoyed loved Attack the Block massively, so while I am discussing the negatives let’s get them out of the way as soon as possible. The flaws are threefold; the first is the character of Hi-Hat, the local gangster and dealer who is the self-proclaimed king of the London housing estate where the film takes place. His character is superfluous and he really adds nothing to the film in the slightest. Conversely Ron is severely underused, especially for a comic actor with such a high billing as Nick Frost, as one would expect he is brilliant in each of his scenes. The biggest problem with the film was the block in question; it was so empty and vacant. The block should have been a bustling hub of life and not lacking in it.
This is a problem, but the film more than makes up for this lack of life by being relentless. It may be a relatively short film but it’s perfectly paced and straight to the point. After the opening exchange the film doesn’t really stop for breath until it ends exactly when and where it should. This in itself is very welcome and the antithesis to my running gag of 2011: films which need the ending chopped off.
Admittedly it’s never quite scary enough, but what it lacks in scares it more than makes up for in tension and whilst fully revelling in the much missed slow reveal championed by classic creature features. What it lacks in scares it makes up in unique design, a black dog like creature that is too dark to see. It gives life to all those things you think you see out of the corner of your eye; I like that about the design. It is simple but far from lacking in depth. Best of all is the lack of justification. We don’t have any exposition as to what the invading forces are, whether they are alien or not. Through such means the imagination takes control.
When events take a turn for the worst, the characteristics developed in the opening scene is squashed through one of the characters hiding in a bin, beyond that there are many moments of psychical comedy and quotable lines. There is a gag about inner city warfare between police and the black youth that stands out, the same is true of a running gag about the duality of language that the boys adopt. Although some of the jokes were ruined by incessantly played promotional campaigns, Attack the Block is still a funny film.
All in all, this is a superb film. Sure it has its problems, but through Cornish including his young cast in the development process we have a film that speaks to young and old alike. Beyond that this is a much needed injection into an industry that has lost its ability to imagine, attack the block is the most inventive and creative film to come out of Britain for years. So not only do I enjoy the film for what it is, I am optimistic about the potential which has been unlocked by the latest addition to the list of brilliant debut films of 2011. Support invention and creation in British cinema by supporting this master class of escapist joy.