The Scoop: 2011 R, directed by Joe Cornish and starring Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, and Nick Frost
Tagline: Inner City vs Outer Space
Summary Capsule: When no one else knows or cares, a young British street gang is forced to defend their turf against big, hungry alien invaders.
Al’s Rating: If you only see one movie this year about an alien invasion in South London, make it this one!
Al’s Review: The following is a super-quick crash course in British slang:
- Bare – many, lots of
- Block – a large apartment building
- Bruv – friend or family member; derived from ‘brother’
- Fam – an extremely close group of people; derived from ‘family’
- Merk – to attack and defeat
- Trust – “Believe me.”
Got it? Okay, good. You now have no reason to not see Attack the Block. None. It is hands-down the most fun I’ve had with a movie this year and you should all be watching it right now.
The story is simple: The aliens have landed, but it’s not on a giant mothership and it’s not in the middle of New York or D.C. Instead, the ETs are showing up inside meteors that crash near a small tenement building in South London. The first creature, who is maybe a little slimy but only a few feet high, is quickly stomped to death by a street gang of highschoolers. Soon, however, the area is swarming with invaders, “alien gorilla/wolf motherf***ers ” who are fast, ferocious, and out for blood. With the police too busy to care and the adults refusing to believe, only the gang and a few local residents now stand between the creatures and their meal.
Our titular Block is full of interesting characters, from Sam (Jodie Whitaker), a nurse having a very bad day; to Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), a two-bit thug with a grudge; to Ron (Nick Frost), the gatekeeper to the building’s massive pot stash. All are funny and memorable in their own ways, and each is imbued with enough realism that you never feel like you’re just waiting for them to become lunchmeat.
No matter how many cool character actors the filmmakers found, however, Attack the Block was always going to live or die on the gang of kids. This is their story and their neighborhood, so if we didn’t care about them, then we just weren’t going to care, period. Thankfully, each and every one delivers in a big way. John Boyega is intimidating and magnetic as Moses, the silent, troubled leader; Alex Esmail’s Pest is… well… a pest, but he never goes so overboard he becomes tiresome. Even the younger kids, Probs and Mayhem, look and act like real little kids and not [snooty voice] Young Actors [/snooty voice].
And what’s so amazing to me is that none of them are playing particularly nice kids, either. They’re in a street gang! They rob people and break things and sell drugs! They’re obsessed with looking tough and think the only way to do it is to beat on other people! These are punks in the worst sense of the word. It was actually my big sticking point with the film, at first. Despite all the chaos in Attack the Block, though, I wound up pleasantly surprised at the way it still managed to tell an honest, human story about a group of young people who live in a world without options, where they are confused and lost and marginalized at every turn. It’s a story that treats them with some respect but also never lets them off the hook for all the crap they pull. It’s a story that’s both fairly straightforward and pretty frickin’ good.
The creatures who stalk our cast are brilliant in their simplicity: fur that is blacker than black and rows of razor teeth that glow neon blue. I haven’t mentioned them much in this review, perhaps because you see less of them than you might think. Things are often implied rather than shown, thanks to clever editing and camerawork, but the film also doesn’t miss the chance to get explicit. There are only a handful of those moments and they’re tantalizingly held back so when we’re finally allowed to get up close, it really feels like we’re getting a Movie Monster Moment to savor.
Speaking of getting close, by the way, I love the fact that guns are almost nowhere to be seen in Attack the Block . If this was set in an American city, everyone would be packing heat. Here, they just have to use what they can find: knives, pipes, baseball bats, fireworks. In other words, you have to be as close to kill them as they have to be to kill you and it leads to some fantastically tense moments as the number of creatures swells and our heroes grow ever more desperate until you’re just not sure how *anyone* is getting out of this alive.
Another reviewer explained Attack the Block as “Goonies meets Gremlins” and I’m completely jealous that I didn’t come up with it first because this movie is destined to sit right alongside them as a classic. It takes the “Us vs. Them” idea of an alien invasion movie and drops it in the laps of people who have been living with “Us vs. Them” for their entire lives. Us vs. the cops. Us vs. the kids who get to go to college. Us vs. the kids who have parents. Is “Us vs. the alien gorilla/wolf motherf***ers” really all that different? This is a movie with a heart, a brain, and my favorite kind of snark. It’s a completely satisfying experience that begs to be owned, rewatched, and passed around to everyone you know. Trust, bruv.