Review: “Attack the Block” (2011)

Let’s face it, folks – after decade upon decade of modern genre films (even if we start with, say, the 1970s), we’ve exhausted thousands of original ideas. Some even argue that there aren’t any original stories left out there to tell. So when a thoroughly original take on a classic scenario actually makes it to the screen, it’s a gorgeous and rousing thing to behold.

Such a fresh take is Joe Cornish‘s Attack the Block, a sci-fi horror comedy unlike any that has come before it. For one, it’s a movie about kids defending the world against an alien invasion that doesn’t have the slightest concern for nostalgia or romanticizing the wonder or innocence of childhood.

But more importantly, it’s a movie made about and for young, working-class teens of color that takes both them and their problems seriously, even in the context of fantastical events.

That a genre film can treat the stories of frustrated, marginalized, and misunderstood young people with such respect and at the same time deliver such a raucous, engaging, and inventive spin on sci-fi action comedy is the most welcome kind of cinematic miracle.

Set on one eventful night in scrappy South London, Attack the Block begins as Sam (Jodie Whittaker) – a pretty young white professional – walks home from work through what looks to be a somewhat rough-and-tumble neighborhood. When she is set upon by a group of what appear to be masked teens on bicycles who surround her and rob her an knifepoint, it’s of course expected that we’re to identify with her in this particular transaction.

But when a falling meteor flattens a car mere yards away from the mugging and Sam makes a hasty escape, we remain with the robbers, who turn out to be a not terribly threatening group of tweens who clearly have no place robbing anyone.

When the group’s leader, Moses (excellent newcomer John Boyega), gets bitten by some animal that apparently came out of the meteor, the kids chase the beastie to a local park and kill it. Then they parade it about the neighborhood to the amusement or horror of its colorful inhabitants, including two tiny aspiring gangsters named Props and Mayhem (who are about 7 years old), and a gaggle of no-nonsense adolescent girls from the block who are just begging to be the heroes of a new generation of gay men. (The way that one of the lasses pronounces “chlamydiaaaaaah” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. BELIEVE.)

When more of the aliens – which sort of look like the thing from the crate in Creepshow that ate Adrienne Barbeau, but pitch-black and with glowing teeth – start arriving and targeting the kids, it begins to dawn on them that they have made a grave mistake. Even more so when they are forced to join up with Sam – the girl they rudely mugged hours earlier – to save themselves and their building.

What’s more, these aliens seem to be intent on getting Moses and his pals, and plan on eating their way through anything that gets in their way. What follows is a night full of chases, near-misses, gory deaths, hilarious physical gags (one of my favorite sequences involves a breakneck chase on bikes and motor scooters – one of which has a clunky pizza delivery box welded to it), and dirty dealings with the neighborhood drug lord and his lackeys (one of whom is played by Nick Frost of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead).

But nifty aliens and carnage aside, it’s the cleverly embedded message that our actions have very real consequences that really sold Attack the Block for me. And the point is made without compromising the wackiness of the bigger premise, resulting in a rock-em-sock-em experience that has real (and, in my case, totally unexpected) emotional resonance. The resulting film is sort of what you would get if Steven Spielberg and John Singleton had a beautiful lovechild together in a South London council house.

There’s another big movie about an alien invasion opening this weekend, I realize. But for a smart and fresh take on the formula that merges the blood-spattered charm of Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright co-produced) with a youthful sense of urban anarchy, Attack the Block is a must-see.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

Attack the Block is Rated R for tons of wonderfully vulgar slang, toothy alien attacks, drug use, grievous harm to teens, general juvenile chaos, and total awesomeness.


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Buzz created CampBlood.org in 2003 to meet a need for a safe place for weirdos of all stripes to discuss horror movies from a queer perspective. Now that the campers have overtaken the Camp staff and locked them in the Arts & Crafts cabin he is questioning that decision.