Attack the Block is the directorial debut from Joe Cornish, best known in the UK as one half of Adam and Joe, the comedy duo responsible for cult favourite, The Adam and Joe Show, a late night sketch show that aired on Channel 4 in the late 90′s. Clearly all of those animated re-enactments of his favourite films using stuffed toys and Star Wars action figures paid off because this is a confident and assured film that is reminiscent of all the best horror/sci-fi/action adventure/comedy crossover favourites from the 80′s, such as Tremors, Critters and Gremlins.
What makes this film’s confidence and overall success all the more impressive is the fact that it’s not only a directorial debut from Cornish but it’s also a first feature film for cinematographer Thomas Townend (who previously worked mostly on short films and in TV), it features the first film score by Steven Price and Basement Jaxx, not to mention that most of the young actors are unknowns plucked off the streets of South London.
Attack the Block starts on Bonfire Night in Brixton with Sam (Jodie Whittaker) being mugged on her way home from work by a gang of kids led by the imposing Moses (John Boyega). What appears to be a firework explodes in a car next to them giving Sam the opportunity to get away, then when attempting to loot the car Moses is attacked by a strange animal which they then pursue and kill. Realising that it’s not some kind of dog, as they’d originally assumed, (“it’s raining monkeys!”) they take the carcass to their local drug dealer Ron (Nick Frost) who they think may be able to identify the animal due to the amount of Animal Planet he watches (there’s actually a small cameo from Adam Buxton as the narrator of a documantary about moths that’s on the television in the background). Soon they realise that there aren’t just fireworks lighting up that sky and that bigger and badder aliens are crash landing, so they are forced to band together and fight back to protect their block. This includes teaming up with Sam who they discover to be a neighbour and Brewis, a stoned yuppie who gets caught up in the action whilst trying to buy weed (an amusing turn from Luke Treadaway).
I had been slightly apprehensive in the run up to seeing Attack the Block, worrying that perhaps it would be too derivative or borderline offensive, like Paul Andrew Williams recent Cherry Tree Lane, which was “hoodie horror” of the worst sort that played up to white middle-class Daily Mail readers fears of black youths. But luckily that wasn’t the case and, although relying somewhat or archetypes at times, the kids are all fantastic and in the end almost endearing. For me Attack the Block works on many levels, it’s an effectively tense siege movie, it has some great creature effects (the in camera work and CGI is flawless) and a few scary moments as well as retaining a sense of humour without becoming a flat out comedy or parody which, to Cornish’s credit as both writer and director, is a balancing act that few filmmakers manage to achieve successfully. The pacing is spot on too, with the film coming in at just under 90 minutes.
There’s been a good run of British films made by first time directors recently, including not just Attack the Block but also Monsters (Gareth Edwards), Submarine (Richard Ayode) and the forthcoming Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine) and I just hope that despite the closure of the UK Film Council we can continue to maintain such a strong output, because as someone who watches a lot of films I find the constant barrage of remakes, reboots and reimaginings that we’re subjected to at the local multiplexes week in week out more than a little disheartening at times. Attack the Block was a refreshing change and I’m already looking forward to seeing it again.
Overall for sheer enjoyment and good fun I’d definitely recommed this film, I’ve read a few middling reviews recently and it would be easy to nitpick, but I think a few minor flaws are more than acceptable for a first film. Attack the Block will undoubtedly make it into my top ten of the year.
Our rating: 8/10