ATTACK THE BLOCK – The Review
We all know what happens when aliens show up in the rural backwoods of the Midwest, but why have aliens only been interested in probing Americans? Writer and director Joe Cornish decided that needs to change. ATTACK THE BLOCK presents one idea of what it would be like if aliens arrived in an urban, inner city setting in London, but it’s not the typical fare you might expect.
Cornish, who has recently made his mark as a screenwriter of upcoming films THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN and ANT-MAN, now makes a substantial mark on the science-fiction genre with this little alien film that could… could possibly make you laugh and cheer, that is. ATTACK THE BLOCK has the makings of a cult sensation, a nostalgic good time film to be revisited year after year, like that of THE MONSTER SQUAD or GOONIES.
The story follows a small gang of teenagers in South London as they discover an alien. Quick to react with youthful curiosity and recklessness, the teens beat the floppy-limbed, big-headed alien creature – oddly resembling a disproportionately skewed Muppet – to its inevitable death, dragging it back to their building to show it off. This ultimately proves to be a big mistake.
ATTACK THE BLOCK is a film with multiple layers. The obvious layer, we’ll call this the frosting, is the alien invasion layer, whereas extraterrestrial creatures on Earth terrorize the inhabitants of one apartment building in South London. From this, we get the beginnings of a science-fiction story and the underpinnings of a fun-filled scary movie with plenty of jumps and startles, chases and man versus creature violence. But, just beneath the frosting is the cake, a richly flavored social commentary that is light and palatable.
While the premise of a film tackling the plight of inner city teens, gang culture and race relations may sound too dense to swallow, Cornish manages to construct this in a way that keeps ATTACK THE BLOCK fluffy and refreshing, while still satisfyingly spicy with a combination of terror and humor. The moral message remains hidden in the shadows, lurking around the corners, overshadowed by the intensely black, shadowy alien beasts that are hunting down anyone who came in contact with the less intimidating alien the teens pummeled to death.
The biggest name in the cast of ATTACK THE BLOCK is Nick Frost (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, PAUL) who has a relatively small but enjoyable supporting role as Ron, a somewhat out of place co-inhabitant of the local drug dealer Hi-Hatz’ crib, whom the main character of the film are friendly with. Hi-Hatz, on the other hand, serves primarily as another obstacle in the road for Moses (John Boyega) and his teen gang as they struggle to survive and find a way to defeat the alien creatures. Having two antagonists in the film gives the story more depth.
ATTACK THE BLOCK is unique, but draws on familiarity. For me, the film takes all that made THE MONSTER SQUAD and GOONIES fun and exciting, then combined it with the dark, frightening charm of Jim Henson, a la LABYRINTH. The alien beasts hunting the teens are pitch black, covered in long spiky quill-like hairs and intimidate the viewer with luminescent eyes and massive sharp teeth that glow in the dark. Sounds creepy, right? Add to this the fascination I had with the fact that these creatures were not computer generated, but rather old school guys in monster suits, and you have one very happy genre fan!
Cornish enlists the well-respected movement coach Terry Notary (PLANET OF THE APES, AVATAR) as the creature, making the effects come to life on screen. Its refreshing to see a well-made creature feature, notably influenced by John Carpenter’s THE THING and the ALIEN films, that intentionally avoids CGI. The effect is an entirely more intimate and spine-chilling atmosphere, a better sense of actually being there, in the moment, and a textural void that is filled that the excessive detail of most CGI creature design rarely manages to properly fill.
The language of ATTACK THE BLOCK may seem intimidating on the surface, not from an overuse of profanity, but from the incorporation of actual dialect and slang used in South London, giving the film a bit of authenticity and added cultural relevance. If you find yourself experiencing this difficulty early in the film, stick with it and allow yourself to be fully immersed in the story. Surprisingly, this will pass. Much like watching A CLOCKWORK ORANGE for the first time, while in English, the foreign dialect and slang can be confusing if you try and read too much into it, but ultimately all makes sense. Remember that movies are primarily a visual medium, so when a film is well-made, the dialogue is supported by what we see on screen. Cornish proves that he is clearly aware of this.
ATTACK THE BLOCK has thrills, great old school creature effects and humor, but the character development is possibly the most accomplished aspect of the film. Cornish allows his cast of teen characters to evolve from immature, typical teenagers into responsible, heroic figures. This is not just a genre film for fans of science-fiction and horror, but also a reasonably accessible family film, in the sense that the entire span of the teenage spectrum can relate to and appreciate the story while having a good time in the process.