SXSW Review: Attack The Block Could Be The Best Action Movie Of The Year

John Boyega Attack the Block
(Image credit: Sony)

The midnight screening is a sacred ritual of South by Southwest. The festival is known for sniffing out movies with a strong visual flair and a penchant for cinematic geekery. British comedian/writer Joe Cornish's debut feature Attack the Block couldn't fit more perfectly into that mold. Tipping its hat to classic '80s horror films (Critters, Gremlins come to mind), the film infuses moments of comedic levity into a dark, dangerous monster movie. The result: an alien invasion where you actually give a damn about the folks being invaded.

Block follows a group of teen criminals in South London who roam the dimly lit streets and stir up trouble. On one particular evening, the gang corners Sam (Jodie Whittaker) and the group's ringleader Moses (John Boyega) threatens with a knife before running off with her money and jewelry. The moment leaves Sam jarred and the audience with an unsympathetic look at the ruthless youngins -- but when a slew of aliens crash land on the crew's block, Moses, Sam, Brewis (Luke Treadaway), a local burnout, and the rest of the ragtag group of kids team up and put aside differences to defend themselves (and the city) from invasion.

Battle: Los Angeles this is not. Cornish's film finds a balance in scope to keep the action moving while showcasing the brilliant, hilarious and realistic teen actors. There's a surprising amount of smaller-scale, alien attack action in Attack the Block and Cornish's crack team of make-up and visual effects artists pull out all the stops. The film is quickly paced and never lets up -- if the characters aren't holed up in a barricaded apartment, whipping up a plan, they're being chased by the shadowy monsters. Of course, not everyone out runs the aliens, and Cornish doesn't skimp on the bloody mayhem. Attack the Block is surprisingly gory, reminiscent of old school Peter Jackson movies like Dead Alive. The kills in the movie will instigate an audible, pleasantly shocked yelp.

Edgar Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, served as Executive Producer on Attack the Block and the similarities to his films are apparent. The movie isn't just an homage to the films Cornish loves, nor is it a straight up horror/action movie. There's an emphasis on honest relationships that is rarely seen in genre films, but a welcome one at that. Moses is challenged by his perception of "the block," through his growing relationship with Sam, his best friends his random encounters with side characters, like a pot dealer played by Wright-staple Nick Frost. Watching people run in terror, be ripped apart by extraterrestrial fangs and blow up aliens with fireworks is cool, it's even better when the final payoff is personal growth, through kicking alien butt.

Attack the Block could be easily compared to Shaun of the Dead, especially with Wright's involvement, but it's a monster all its own. The film is exhilarating, thanks in part to first time cinematographer Thomas Townend's colorful photography and a pulsing score by DJ duo Basement Jaxx. Joe Cornish is an emerging talent and Attack the Block, even on its small scale, may wind up as one of the best action movies of the year.

Watch for more from Austin's South By Southwest Film Festival coming soon right here.