“Attack the Block” opens with the disturbing mugging of a young nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker), by a group of hooded thugs. Considering how foreboding they seem, it’s a bit of shock to realize just how young her attackers are. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your protagonists. These posturing, barely post-pubescent hoods will be your protagonists for the remaining 85 minutes. Enjoy the film!
It’s a very daring choice that could have gone south very easily, and one that would have been written out by Hollywood executives immediately. But the authenticity of these kids and their language is one of the most compelling details of a film that makes one daring, ambitious choice after another.
The mugging is interrupted by what appears to be a meteor which falls from the sky and demolishes a car. When the boys go to investigate, they are attacked by a small, seemingly blind creature that looks like a pissed off monkey/wolf hybrid. So they do the only reasonable thing to do when an outsider invades their turf and attacks them: they kill it.
Like curious cats dragging their kills back to the porches of their perplexed owners, the boys proudly parade the alien corpse to the apartment of Roy (Nick Frost), a jovial stoner who grows pot for Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), a vicious, paranoid drug dealer intent on keeping these kids under his thumb.
Meanwhile, Sam visits the police and describes the attack. She returns with two officers to confront and arrest the kids, but they’re interrupted. It turns out the small alien creature was not alone. Soon, other larger and faster creatures also fall from the sky, and the boys grab weapons to make a stand and protect their block against some seriously pissed off monsters.
Thrust into a desperate situation, Sam and the delinquents stop posturing and actually relate on a more human level. I guess being attacked by extraterrestrial beasts with indiscernible features (save for ominous glowing fangs) has a way of reminding you what’s really important.
Once the alien siege begins in earnest, the film really takes off into exhilarating and scary territory. These scenes are expertly staged, jettisoning the shaky cam and fast cutting tactics that have defined action movies in recent years.
The film itself is beautifully photographed by Thomas Townend, who makes his feature debut as cinematographer. Despite taking place at night, every shot looks stunning, with sharp, electrifying colors and without a hint of grain.
“Attack the Block” is one of those films that you watch and marvel that it even exists. Because there are so many places where it could have failed, it makes the fact that it is so thoroughly entertaining that much more remarkable. Much like his sometimes collaborator Edgar Wright (who served as executive producer for this film) or Quentin Tarantino, writer/director Joe Cornish has used the movie he is most passionate about to help shape his approach to all aspects of this one.
The casting of local children from the troubled neighborhood was modeled after Jonathan Kaplan’s 1979 film “Over the Edge.” The look of the film and elements of the score were most inspired by John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Even the title was inspired by the criminally underseen Korean film “Attack the Gas Station.”
The comedic tone and subject matter can also be seen as a nod to “Critters,” “Gremlins,” and other great 80s monster movies. All of these elements combine to form a film that is both familiar but unlike any other. Its truly more than the sum of its parts.
“Attack the Block” is fun, complex, scary, gory, hilarious, and thrilling. Not only is this my favorite film of the festival, it’s my favorite film so far this year.