Frightfully Thrilling Block Out of the World
Sam (Jodie Whittaker) didn’t think her night could get any worse. After being mugged by teenager Moses (John Boyega) and his gang, the trainee nurse gets back home to her London apartment block only to have him and his crew suddenly knocking on her front door. Turns out, their building has for some bizarre reason been targeted for alien invasion by a gaggle of black-haired dog-like creatures with a fondness for human flesh, and with the police stupefied it’s surrealistically up to them to save the day.
In order to survive Sam makes an uneasy peace with Moses and his friends. She also ends up meeting their complex’s resident drug dealer Ron (Nick Frost) and his number one client Brewis (Luke Treadaway). Attacker becomes savior, villain becomes hero, and before the night is done Moses will learn the value of community and will put his own life on the line order to ensure his neighbors aren’t some interstellar creature’s late-night snack.
Attack the Block is the best popcorn flick of the summer, and I mean that as a gigantic compliment. Popular BBC television personality Joe Cornish makes the jump to the big screen as writer and director of this hugely entertaining B-movie genre hodgepodge, crafting a fitfully funny and a breathlessly exciting homage to Assault on Precinct 13, Gremlins, Rio Bravo, Night of the Creeps and Escape from New York, just to name a small handful of titles. This is a smart, quickly paced and imaginatively inspired motion picture, and by the time it was over all I wanted to do was watch the darn thing again right then and there.
Made with a fraction of the budget of other summer actioners like Transformers: Dark of the Moon or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, what Cornish has come up with is pure pulp entertainment on a grandly intoxicating scale. Keeping the focus on the characters, most notably Moses and Sam, he realistically grounds things in a way that’s refreshing and natural. As crazy as things get, as silly as much of this can be, as over the top as the action undeniably is, because the characters work everything they’re doing to fight the monsters does as well.
Newcomer Boyega has the look of a major star in the making. At the start of the film he’s a thug. But as the movie continues the teen’s tough-guy demeanor slips away and is shown to be nothing more than an intricately constructed façade. The semi-shy, emotionally neutered boy begins to emerge. Through it all Moses begins to find an inner strength he never knew was there. He discovers he’s fighting for things he can’t easily explain but unquestionably knows are important, and as he does so ends up becoming a better son, friend and man in the process.
Boyega is terrific. His startling evolution from childish ruffian to selfless warrior is extremely effective. Moses grows up in the course of this one night, learns what real loss looks like and what true sacrifice entails. It’s a masterful performance, and with Boyega still a teenager I can’t wait to discover where this talented youth goes from here.
Cornish directs with supreme confidence. Tension built steadily yet the laughs kept coming. Suspense grew to the point it was almost unbearable yet the smile on my face never disappeared. The movie has its own organically natural rhythm, all the pieces slipping into place to craft an elegantly cheerful interstellar urban thriller. I love that Cornish takes no prisoners, and just because he’s introduced a group of characters the viewer can relate to and like that still doesn’t mean they will all escape evisceration. Anxiety is palpable throughout, as is the sense that anyone can be alien dog meat at any moment, and while the jokes and gags ease the tension there is still an undying feeling of pervasive dread that blissfully never dematerializes.
The most important thing to know about Attack the Block is how gosh darn fun it is. Sitting in the theatre, this was one of those moments where I sat there in awe as I realized just how much I was enjoying myself. I was laughing and shrieking and squirming and giggling for every precious second of the running time. I felt like a kid in a candy store who had just been handed their favorite treat free of charge. Cornish has delivered an invigorating, supercharged frolic. It’s out of this world, and to call it anything else would be a bloody man-eating crime.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)