Attack the Block: A teen gang in South London battles aliens

4 Aug

Attack the Block One SheetAttack the Block is a fast-paced Science Fiction/action/horror/comedy film that won’t disappoint its audience.   Joe Cornish (writer/director) expertly weaves a mutli-genre narrative  into a tense, fun and entertaining journey of terror and… self-discovery.  Yes.  Self-discovery.  All this for a £9,000,000 budget.

Moses (John Boyega) is the leader of a London street gang, a group of young juvenile delinquents who have far too much time on their hands and too much testosterone coursing through their veins (the affliction of most males, teenage and otherwise).  We follow the narrative that begins with Moses’ bad decision to have his group rob a nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker), which puts him and his group in the spot where an alien crash lands into a car.  Sam escapes the group who were holding her at knifepoint, and honestly, at this juncture of the film, I was wondering how Cornish was going to turn this around for me.  I was so disgusted with the group of mini-thugs, I was hoping the aliens would crash-land into them and the film would end.  I don’t have a lot of patience for armed robbery.  Moses forgets about Sam and is far more curious about the car the alien has crash-landed into.  He goes to investigate and in the process, almost gets killed.  He’s so mad the alien attacked him, he and his gang follow the alien to an abandoned structure and they rush in.  We don’t see the fight, but the boys come out victorious, with a dead alien that looks a lot like a gorilla with lots of shark teeth.  And yes, these aliens are cheesy but as the film progresses, their presence becomes increasingly menacing.  I enjoyed them far more than the aliens from Cowboys & Aliens or the one from Super 8.

SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

It’s Moses desperate need for acceptance and inability to control his emotions that actually causes all the peril in the film.  His desire to kill the alien, and the direct action of the killing, starts the narrative of horror in motion.  Cornish essentially makes Moses a complete wanker at the beginning of the film, challenges us as viewers to see if we can look beyond his violent interior and exterior and somehow identify with him.  Moses takes the audience on his journey:  from being a self-serving juvenile  to becoming a man willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the community.

When the aliens (who as I said are basically scary looking gorillas with ice blue glowing teeth that like to tear people up and bite them) come after Moses’ block, it’s a matter of pride in the beginning.  Turf as well.  The neighborhood drug dealer, who attempts to recruit Moses early on in the film warns him though, that the block Moses is living on isn’t really Moses’ territory, it’s the dealer’s.  In this assertion lies a challenge for Moses, so while defending his block against the aliens, he inadvertently angers the drug dealer who becomes his nemesis, so now Moses and his gang must avoid not only an alien threat but the human threat as well.

If Moses hasn’t brought on enough problems for himself and his group of friends, they end up having to seek help from the very same woman, Sam, who they robbed.  This challenge for our anti-hero becomes one of his greatest tests in the narrative:  to look beyond what he perceived as someone outside the block, apologizing for his actions and accepting her as a trusted friend.  In that same spirit, Sam, the nurse, must put aside her anger and fear of Moses and his friends, attempt to help the injured party in the group, and ultimately, trust Moses with her life.

Now, you might ask yourself if this is an action/horror comedy movie or a tender coming of age/tolerance movie.  It’s all of the above – because the coming of age elements come out of the action/horror/comedy narrative.  It is no small feat to pull that off and Joe Cornish must be given his due.  Whenever things get far too intense we are allowed a moment of comic relief either through dialogue and familiar issues in the lives of every teen (the guys can’t call for help, they’re all out of credit on their mobile phones (cell phones if you’re reading in the US), or watching two young residents of the block trying to get accepted by the gang.  They look like they’re about 8 or 9.  They do get their moment though – which is another gold star for this script – Cornish pays off the plot points that he sets up.  Things are not left hanging or unanswered, they are always dealt with, which is more than I can say for many Hollywood studio films that suffer through the development process with multiple writers.

Although this is primarily a horror film and there is plenty of blood and nerve-wrecking scenes, this film is about far more.  It is well worth the price of admission – full price.  I rarely say that.  I liked it so much that I would probably go again.  Now I never say that about any horror film out in the theaters.  I’m looking forward to watching Joe Cornish’s career.  It’s also nice to see Nira Park got it right again (the producer that brought us the UK horror/comedy zombie film, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World).   Don’t miss Attack the Block.  You’ll be sorry if you do.

Watch my Vlog Review on YouTube.

Trailer for Attack the Block:

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