It’s always a remarkable experience to sit down for an action film with perfect kinetic energy, or a monster movie with inventive creatures, or a regional film that truly captures the texture and cadence of its location, or a coming-of-age film that captures some genuine moment of maturation. To accomplish any of that in a film is remarkable, but to accomplish every single one of those things simultaneously is wholly incredible. From writer and director Joe Cornish, who has done work you might not know but who works with people you definitely do, Attack The Block is crammed with excitement, action, humor, and some of the coolest monsters to inhabit the screen in years.
The film works so well because it is an excellent example of taking a sophisticated approach to a simple set of goals. The plot revolves around a group of South London hoods who have to battle a group of ferocious alien creatures that are invading their turf. They’re joined by a woman they robbed earlier in the evening, a drug dealer they’re all tangentially associated with, as well as a friendly-but-useless pair of customers/lackeys of said drug dealer. Nothing about the set-up is going to rock your asshole right off the page, but you’d also never believe this film was written and directed by a first-time feature filmmaker. This is the kind of film that your first instinct is to flip out about, before you suddenly hush yourself and tell your friends to “trust me, just watch it.” With that in mind, I’m reticent to gush too strongly about this film and overhype it, as it’s the kind of film that could easily suffer a backlash.
Breaking it down though, what makes it so excellent? Let’s start with the filmmaking of Joe Cornish who handles quiet character moments, full-blown balls out chase action, and horror-style menace with extreme skill. His camera is always flowing, moving with his action in a way that embodies that dangerous wee-hours energy of youth on a Saturday night. It’s that feeling that clicks between you and your friend as you walk down the street aimlessly and suddenly have an epiphany of somewhere to be, something to do, or some shit to fuck up. That energy is quickly applied to fear and a fair amount of reckless bravado though, as Cornish’s incredible creatures hit the screen. The first alien to attack is an easily-killed, beastly little creature but it’s soon followed by the real threat. Some combination of wolves, gorillas, and abominable whatthefucks, the creatures are furry black holes that allow no light to bounce off, save for their blue glowing teeth. While their movement gives them dimension (an effect that grants them an appropriately alien aura), a rotoscoping technique turns them into perpetual silhouettes. Exceptional sound design turns them into intimidating monsters whose roars engage every band of the spectrum, rumbling your guts and teasing your brain with extraterrestrial squeals. This carries over into the soundtrack by Basement Jaxx, which is yet another stellar piece of work by an electronic artist in the composing world. The soundtrack is bombastic, electronic, and operatic- helping drive the action when the movie is moving, scare the audience when the monsters are roaming, and turn this feisty batch of kids into superheros when they’re on the march.
Great action, cool monsters, and good sound would only take the film so far though, if there wasn’t a strong group of characters to identify with and strong writing to buttress them. Cornish’s brave decision to roll with young, inexperienced, and genuinely-accented youths pays off tremendously though, and there’s not a weak spot in the cast. Speaking in their own slang and thick cadence, the verbal texture of the film as presented by this gang is rich and spirited. Their immature quips and unique way of characterizing things and insulting each other is a joy to listen to, and their chemistry as a group is perfect. The group runs five or six deep at the start and they all rally around their leader Moses, played by John Boyega, who is a brooding, troubled figure but displays wit and confidence when it matters. It is Moses’s shift from thug to actual leader of men that gives the film its oomph, although the concise peeks into each boy’s home life and social network are woven into the film economically and give weight to the character of the entire crew. That crew dwindles quickly though, as the film is a bloody one and has no fear in taking out characters of every level of importance.
It can’t be emphasized enough how well this blend of exuberant camera work, impeccable lighting, choreography and humor all work together to create a new important entry in several distinct genres. Small touches like the Nick Frost’s minor but memorable character are great, but it’s the respective skill of the first time actors, director, composers, and cinematographer that makes this truly memorable.
The joy and excitement of a great genre film is often quality coming from unknown quantities, so ignore this review and see it with no expectations if you’re inclined to judge a film by hype. Perhaps there are flaws or weak spots that will become clear on further viewings, but it’s tough for me to pull any out now (hence the score, which I emphasize is a contextual rating, not an absolute rating). I don’t want to posit that Attack The Block is life-changing or revolutionary, but it’s very nearly a perfect little inhabitant of its corner of the movie universe. It’s a corner that is furry, bloody, scary, and particularly thickly-accented, and one we will probably all want to visit many more times. Trust me, just watch it.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
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