Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Attack the Block
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Nick Frost
By Alan Bacchus
Joe Cornish’s new cult-hit Attack the Block feels like a continuation of JJ Abrams’ penance to ‘80s children vs. adults cinema. While Super 8 was unabashedly a Spielberg romance, Attack the Block feels like a tougher Joe Dante movie – a foul-mouthed, gory monster movie full of British piss and vinegar, but with a winning attitude and a heart of gold.
With the concept alone we can envision the movie without ever seeing a frame of film – an alien invasion of beast-like feral creatures from the point of view of a group of inner city South London teens. Director Joe Cornish, co-writer of the upcoming Tin Tin, is a collaborator with Edgar Wright. Wright, in fact, serves as a producer and his genre-referencing British style is front and centre. Cornish assembles a strong group of fresh-faced and wholly authentic badass kids to play his heroes.
The leader of the bunch is Moses (Boyega), a brooding youngster cum anti-hero whom we first meet wearing a hoodie and facemask while mugging a terrified young nurse, Sam (Jodie Whitaker), who is on her way home from work. When Moses confidently hunts a strange creature, which we will learn is actually an alien from space, and kills it out of pure pleasure, he and his mates become the target of an invasion of these nasty Tasmanian devil-like creatures.
In between this very quick and simple set-up, there’s minimal exposition or explanations as to why they’re here. Cornish quickly moves between set pieces sequestered in the ‘block’, a British term for an apartment complex. The design of the creatures is refreshingly old school, a pure black beast with absolutely no detail visible other than the glowing eyes and teeth. That said, during some of the action, Cornish seems forced to cut around the animals to avoid exposing their special effects. As such, there’s an overly frenetic, often confusing visual aspect to the action.
There’s some strong serendipity to the timing of this movie. Released in the US right at the time when the London riots were occurring, Cornish seemed to have tapped into much of the anger felt by these socially-challenged, under-represented youth. The hoodlums, specifically Moses, are wonderfully drawn and characterized as full of bravado – youth who act and feel like they’re supposed to. This is the point of view from Sam, the nurse in the opening scene. Yet, once Moses is disarmed by the terror of the alien, Sam and the audience see him as a regular kid who is honest, decent and sincere.
The only familiar face in the film, Nick Frost, does a fun cameo. It’s a smaller role as a pot-smoking dealer growing marijuana in his apartment building. While not as obviously comedic as Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, the presence of Frost provides a giggle whenever Cornish threatens to get too serious.
But this is a post-modern action movie at heart with the four kids against the odds. They use their streetwise guile to overcome an extreme and now familiar catastrophic event and become heroes of their broken-down community. Any lull in the narrative or repetition of action, which unfortunately sets in, is superseded by the strong, youthful enthusiasm and energy of this picture.