What makes a film with aliens fun in this day and age, where all originality is almost expired, is a proper sense of humor mixed with realism. It’s not entertaining enough to be relentlessly bombarded with images of computer generated critters from outer space ripping apart helpless civilians.
That’s what makes a film like Attack the Block such a breath of fresh air; it’s made by a first-time director (Joe Cornish) who is aware of the tacky influences found in mainstream Hollywood movies stripped of innovation. Cornish has a free-spirited sensibility making this picture and a playful willingness to take on the science fiction genre in an unhinged manner similar to that of 2009’s District 9, only with more comedy involved. This is a movie that takes benefits from its setting almost too much, featuring very heavy South London slang that makes some dialogue incomprehensible for North American audiences without subtitles on display.
It’s an authentic experience however, different from British comedies of recent years like Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. The combination of laughs and scares is just about equal, cleverly sidestepping the label as a straight-arrow comedy or horror film. Block focuses primarily on a full ensemble cast of youths as the main characters, with only a couple veterans like the lovable Nick Frost popping up from time to time. Before any alien makes an appearance, the city block and its residents of drug-dealers, gang members, aspiring rappers and honest citizens are portrayed living their routine lives.
The gang is lead by Moses (John Boyega) who commands his men to stroll around looking for trouble and the odd innocent victim to mug. They appear tough enough until a meteor crashes nearby, releasing a nasty creature that has them cringing in horror. This is where Block avoids dwelving into sci-fi camp theatrics, early on before the real mayhem begins.
The kids react to an alien like most inner city thugs would with a mixture of hostility, panic and confusion. Their innocence is proven when they take it to the block’s older drug dealer (Nick Frost) because he watches “National Geographic”. It’s reactions like this that are both funny and realistically grounded that provides the film with its own attitude that stays consistent throughout it.
The excellent pacing is a main reason why the film never begins to flutter or slow down, there’s always something happening. It’s a thrill ride that never runs out of gas or ideas. The kids keep managing to find trouble with the aliens as well as other members around the block, barely escaping at times. The action is fierce and handled very well for a first time director who has never had an opportunity to handle large scale action sequences like this before. The choreography makes every movement easy to watch, and the night setting extracts tension in every shadow or dark corridor.
The aliens are simple in design but their appearance is an understatement for their devilishly vicious taste for flesh. They look like balls of fur with rows of teeth so sharp, that even Jaws would wallow in jealous envy. It’s rare for a film creature to stay entertaining without wearing out its welcome, but Cornish does a praiseworthy job of adding new elements into the mix that changes up the proceedings. It helps too that the pouncing aliens are never given a proper origin explanation and are purely focused on ripping people to shreds in gory detail.
The cast is fantastic, gelling with one another as if they have been living on this block for years. The whole film takes place in a general contained area and even with the aliens attacking it’s easy to identify who’s who in this community. Boyega is endearing as the leader who has never had the opportunity to prove himself beyond menial tasks and has terrific delivery with certain lines. The same goes for the rest of the cast who are all thoroughly convincing, especially Frost as a baffled drug dealer who tries his best to stay away from all the carnage.
Attack the Block is a fun approach to a tired genre that is chalk full of witty humorous dialogue and exciting ideas. It’s got a great set of young actors taking charge and very effective aliens that don’t disappoint in the special effects department. Most of the credit is Cornish’s, who directs the film with confidence and a gleam for connecting with an audience on multiple levels. A film like this a success for the simple reason that it never tries hard to be something it’s not. That’s a testament that most British films and filmmakers know a lot about.