I didn’t know what to expect from “Attack the Block,” the latest low-budget sci-fi film directed by newbie Joe Cornish. The trailer definitely held my attention and Nick Frost’s involvement pretty much sold me. However, “Attack the Block” seemed somewhat similar to the Steven Spielberg-produced and J.J. Abrams-helmed “Super 8” in that both of film’s were about a group of kids defending their turf from an alien invasion. Since this is Cornish’s directorial debut, one might assume “Super 8” would be better executed and more rewarding than “Attack the Block.”
Well, that certainly was not the case.
Although “Super 8” was a fun ride, I felt it failed to enthrall. It didn’t resonate with me. Days after watching it, I could only recall the well-crafted train wreck scene and entertaining credits. On the other hand, “Attack the Block” was much more captivating and most certainly more memorable. I can vividly recollect the unsettling beginning, the heart-pounding middle and the exhilarating end.
Cornish wastes little time setting the gritty tone. Starting the film with a mugging, the main characters are introduced — and they’re not likable. What’s interesting is that I don’t think they were supposed to be, at least not in the beginning. Clearly juvenile delinquents, the band of kids rob a nurse (Jodie Whittaker) as she’s on her way home. However, the robbery is interrupted when something of considerable size crashes through the roof of an adjacent car from the sky. The ringleader of the group, named Moses (played by newcomer John Boyega, who happens to look like a young Denzel Washington), inspects the damage, allowing the nurse to get away. But don’t worry; it’s not the last we’ll see of her.
Upon a closer look, Moses and his fellow thieves — Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard) — discover that what dropped from the atmosphere is an alien and it’s dangerous. What transpires next is pretty shocking and I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say these kids are nothing like Elliott or Gertie or the tykes in “Super 8.”
Shortly after the occurrence, the alien invasion goes into full swing, forcing the group into survival mode. An amazingly shot and well-choreographed chase sequence had the audience enthralled as, by now, we’ve started to root for these kids, because they are survivors. The film was shot in a housing project in south London and it’s quite apparent what cards these youngsters were dealt. Unlike kids who grew up in the suburbs, where help would certainly be on the way, these boys live in an area forgotten and ignored. So, it is up to them to protect the block.
The music Cornish selected linked each scene seamlessly. “The Ends” by the Basement Jaxx, mostly known for “Where’s Your Head At,” sounds very extra-terrestrial and the use of KRS One’s “Sound of da Police” was quite amusing. I won’t spoil that either.
But what impressed me most were the performances and, of course, the creature design. I’ll address the acting. All the kids were great, but John Boyega is one to keep tabs on as he stood out the most. He’s simply a brilliant new talent. Alex Esmail, whom I’ve never seen before either, managed to be annoying and adorable at the same time. As for Franz Drameh, I wanted to smack his character, which to me says he did his job. Leeon Jones was well cast as the only boy in the group who wasn’t as hardcore as the others. He was a hoodlum with a heart. Simon Howard did a stellar job as well.
A special mention goes out to pee-wees Probs and Mayhem, hilariously played by Sammy Williams and Michael Ajao. They wanted in on the action and didn’t take kindly to being excluded because of their age and size.
As for the aliens themselves, their simplistic design, reminiscent of “Critters” and “American Werewolf in London,” were excellent. A mix of rotoscoping and puppetry, the concept was more inspired than any CGI monsters we’ve seen as of late. Honestly, they were down right creepy.
I recommend seeing this film in a packed theater — perhaps at a late show where the audience is more apt to be adult and responsive. The overall experience at the venue I went to was positive and the only negative I foresee is that some moviegoers may have a difficult time deciphering the thick Cockney accents and slang. Thankfully, director Joe Cornish opted against subtitles. At Comic-Con this past weekend, he said he believed American audiences are smart enough to figure out the lingo. Hopefully, he’s right.
“Attack the Block” is in theaters now.
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