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Attack The Block is such a straightforward, unpretentious bit of entertainment that it seems dangerous to overpraise it for things like its subversive social commentary, effortless tweaking of genre conventions, or clear-eyed but subtle critique of modern race relations. At the same time, the movie is so damn good it deserves all that praise and more. Coming to theaters near the end of a long, bloated, and generally mediocre summer movie season, Attack the Block is a blast of imagination and wit and sheer nerve, an alien invasion movie twice as entertaining as the ones Hollywood has churned out all summer, made at a fraction of the cost.
Edgar Wright's name has been used to sell this movie, as the Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead is an executive producer on the film, and his influence is clearly felt in the movie's effortless ability to both send up the alien invasion genre and engage with it earnestly. But the real wizardry comes from Joe Cornish, a comedian making his directorial debut here, not only executing that tricky tone but handing us a band of heroes who are also petty street thugs, whom we first meet when they stick up a perfectly nice young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home from work. Wielding knives and hidden in dark hoodies, the five boys are the stereotypical picture of dangerous inner-city youth, but they're also hilarious and adventurous and, in their own way, kind. They've also got a boyish tendency for violence, which is why when a mysterious creature crash lands on the street from the sky, their first instinct is to poke at it, then beat the hell out of it and drag it around like a prize.
That turns out to be a key mistake when many more of the aliens start raining down, fearsome, furry black things with bright red eyes, sharp glowing teeth, and an uncanny ability to hunt our boys down. They wind up taking refuge with the very nurse they've just robbed, and in the same manner as all of cinema's unlikely allies, they're forced to team up to fight off the beasts and protect their building, "the block." The default leader of the group turns out to be Moses (John Boyega), a sullen and succinct kid who won't even apologize to the nurse for robbing her, but nonetheless has all the best ideas for hiding spots (a marijuana growing operation upstairs), fighting tactics (aim for the mouth), and keeping his band of misfit Earth protectors alive.
Not all of them will make it-- Cornish carefully doles out violence and a few shocking deaths to tell us that no one is safe, maybe not even the two young kids who dub themselves Probs and Mayhem (Sammy Williams and Michael Ajao) and want desperately to get in on the action. But the many genuinely violent and scary moments in Attack the Block don't diminish the film's lightning-paced humor, peppered with South London street slang that takes a while to adjust to but soon becomes a new language all its own. Nick Frost, another tie to Edgar Wright's genre-tipping comedy universe, pops up as the friendly neighborhood drug dealer who adds his own dash of humor, but it's really the kids, all unknown actors and some drawn from the public housing projects where the film is set, who are the movie's energy and very soul. Boyega, the tormented hero with a dark back story, is the breakout star, but every one of them builds a believable and fully realized character worth investing in; it's a sharp contrast to, say, Super 8, which presented promising characters then abandoned them once the alien mayhem began.
The social commentary of Attack The Block is a little simple, and familiar to anyone who knows The Wire or the basic concept of not judging a book by its cover, but that's all a side bonus to the crackling adventure story that's the film's main purpose. The thick British accents and slang may keep Attack the Block from becoming the gigantic box office hit it deserves to be, but like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz before it, it could be the underseen gem that's eventually, rightly recognized as a classic.