October 23, 2011


Alternate poster by Deadlydelmundo via the
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Joe Cornish's Attack the Block is a film I have been reading a lot about over the course of the year - it has been playing many film festivals overseas, enjoying a gradual release across the United States and had great word of mouth spread through the blogosphere. When I was recently in the States, I was lucky enough to catch it for myself (as it doesn't open in NZ on general release until March next year). If you have not heard of Attack the Block until just right now, it's an alien invasion flick set in a London block of council/low-rent flats with a young gang of "hoodies" as the heroes. It's well good. 

Comparisons have been made to Edgar Wright's debut feature, Shaun of the Dead, and it's easy to see why: Cornish has taken a typically big budget American genre (in this case alien invasion) and transplanted it successfully to a very British setting; Cornish and Wright are mates and both worked on the script for Tintin and have been working on an Ant-Man script for Marvel (Wright is also a producer for Attack the Block); both have performances from Nick Frost. But that's where the comparisons between the two end. Oh, except for Attack the Block also being really, really good. 

Cornish quickly sets up our band of hoodlums and associated block dwellers: Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is a young nurse, recently moved to the area and one night when on her way home she is accosted and mugged by the hooded and bandana clad gang. It's at this point something crashes down from the sky; the kids investigate and eventually chase and kill it. The gang is led by the badass Moses (John Boyega) and though we're introduced to the rest of this motley crew (none really as tough as they project) Moses is the heart and soul of the film. Sam is also a presence throughout the film and the relationship that unfolds between her and these kids is central to the film and the underlying themes; yes, this is a genre film that has something more to say. It's an interesting, potentially offputting, decision by Cornish to have a gang of kids rather than the typical sweet faced moppets (see Super 8) fronting up to the alien invasion. But then, Attack the Block is not your typical film. But Cornish gets the audience involved with these kids, who they are and what they're about. They might be little hooded shits, but they aren't without sympathy. As such, when things eventually get vicious and characters start dropping left, right and centre you actually give a damn about it - these aren't just disposable bodies there for the cheap thrills.

Cornish has an excellent handle on pace and storytelling. He effortlessly sets up moments in the beginning that will payoff later and economically providing background and motivation to the various characters. Each character gets at least one moment, one moment where Cornish provides some reason for us to care about them. The script is incredibly tight, again reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead as there isn't a wasted moment of screentime. The action sequences, as things intensify, are well planned and executed. They are tense, exciting and always have a payoff; they are about as far from "cool shit thrown at the screen to see what sticks" filmmaking as it is possible to get. The design of the aliens, however, is indeed some cool shit. These aliens are true beasts; like hybrid dog/gorillas with fur blacker than shadows in the night, no eyes and luminescent razor sharp teeth. They are a phenomenal design and the fact that, for the most part, they seem to be very physical presences rather than CGI creations makes them even scarier and downright badass. No ridiculous skin-bags around here, thankyouverymuch Mr. Abrams. 

Attack the Block is yet more proof that the indie sci-fi is in good health (better health, in fact than it's loud, brash big brother the Hollywood sci-fi). The script is tight as a drum, the tone switching from comedy to horror to action to gritty and dark and back round to comedy again. While not an out-and-out comedy like Shaun of the Dead, it's still a damned funny film. If you're one of the folks lucky enough to be going to the 24 Hour Movie Marathon next month in Auckland, you'll be in for a treat with this. As for myself, I can't wait to see it again when it finally gets a general release here in NZ. Allow it. 

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