If there was one department in which J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 was sorely lacking – outside of a more satisfying ending – it was the “fun factor.” While the scenes where the group of nascent filmmakers were trying to make their monster movie was light-hearted and enjoyable, too much focus was put on the horror/sci-fi elements of the story, which made the film thrilling, but decidedly less fun. Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, on the other hand, is not only an entertaining, lively ride, but captures that incredible Amblin spirit as well.
Set in South London, the story centers on a group of young hoodlums (John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard) causing trouble on Guy Fawkes Night. After cornering and mugging a young nurse (Jodie Whittaker), they see something fall out of the sky and crash into a nearby car. Going to investigate, they discover that it’s an alien that, after it attacks them, they successfully kill. What they don’t realize, however, is that not only is the creature they killed the first of many coming to Earth, but that the rest of aliens are bigger, stronger, faster and looking for blood.
What’s truly most impressive about Attack The Block is its young cast, most of which had little-to-no big screen experience prior to boarding the project. But while the performances are wonderful – not to mention at times hilarious – the amateur vibe also gives the film a distinct feel. The assembly performing as a group as much as they are performing as individuals, the movie capitalizes on the feeling that the kids were simply picked up off the street and thrown into a sci-fi action movie. This not only does the film favors in establishing the tone, but also assists in imparting the social message regarding wayward youth in impoverished housing estates.
On the science-fiction end of the spectrum, genre fans are going to love the creature design and application of practical effects. Rather than creating a bland, typical CGI-created beast, Cornish has invented a new type of alien that not only has impressive features – the blue DayGlo mouths are an awesome touch - but also have a smart and specific biology that ends up playing into the film’s plot. The greatest aspect, though, is the pitch black fur, described by one character as, “blacker than black.” Because the movie takes place almost entirely in darkened environments, Joe Cornish brilliant uses the feature as a camouflage effect, the audience rarely seeing the aliens until they open their mouths – a truly terrifying visage.
When it comes down to it, what makes Attack The Block such a great ride is the amount of action. While it doesn’t feature any epic sequences in which a train derails and results in massive explosions, it operates on the small scale in the best way. Because the aliens are approximately the same size as the heroes, all of the fighting takes place on a much more personal level, which not only lends to some impressive close-up cinematography (that doesn’t distort what you’re seeing), but also allows for a more even battleground. Furthermore, there are few guns in the movie, leading the gang to improvise with their weaponry. While it’s fairly boring to see a character shoot at an alien from a distance with a gun, it’s ridiculously cool to see a character kill an alien with a samurai sword or set it on fire with a supersoaker.
All told, Attack the Block is an insane amount of fun and will, in all likelihood, end up being the best action film of the year. Following its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival and multiple screenings in Los Angeles and New York, the movie has been garnering plenty of buzz by word of mouth. I’m here to tell you that every word is true.