DT Moviehouse Review: Attack The Block

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I take another look at Joe Cornish’s sci-fi horror comedy/inner city mash up Attack The Block.

(2011) Written and Directed by Joe Cornish

Tagline: Inner City vs. Outer Space

What it’s about:

The mugging of Sam, a young nurse (Jodie Whittaker), by a tight knit clique of masked inner city kids from a high rise South London housing project on the night of the Guy Fawkes holiday is interrupted when an alien creature streaks out of the pyrotechnically-lit night sky and smashes into the roof of a parked car. The teenaged leader of the group, Moses (the arresting young John Boyega), scuffles with and winds up killing the creature, which the boys then stash with the local weed grower (Nick Frost), unaware that their block is about to come under attack by a legion of similar critters, ravenous males attracted by the scent of the dead female.

Why I bought it:

This was the most entertaining, original movie I saw in 2011. I loved it.

It’s an 80’s style Goonies adventure mixed with John Carptenter-esque horror and action (plus a generous dose of humor, gallows and otherwise), and starring a winsome young cast as modern inner city kids who begin the movie not entirely likeable, but redeem themselves and take on heroic traits by the end.

I hate do this, but I feel the need to address something. In preparing to write this review, I took a look at imdb to refresh myself on the actors’ names, and was amazed to see it had only a 6.7 rating. Baffled, I scrolled down to the comments for an explanation, and was appalled to find an unfortunate number of thinly disguised racist viewpoints. Many viewers declare the kids to be entirely unrelatable either due to their accent and slang (patois, they might as well say), their attitudes, or their lifestyle. Some say the kids hooligan-esque behavior is actually glorified, and that they’re static and unlikeable.

I have no idea what movie these people were watching. I frankly think they folded their arms at the opening scene and judged the characters by their mannerisms and appearances, and never gave the movie a chance after that. This is unfortunate, because they missed a great, fun movie.

I think depicting the main characters as hoodlums in the beginning was an infinitely more interesting choice than populating this movie with the tired, unimaginative trope of inoffensive white suburban kids. The setting, the characters, they’re what makes Attack The Block special. Reasoning through the accents and the fascinating slang is part of the fun of it. I’d liken it to the experience of watching A Clockwork Orange the first time, a film whose characters are inarguably less likeable and relatable and whose actions are ten times more heinous than anything any kid in Attack The Block does (and whose slang is much more puzzling if you haven’t read the book).

And seriously, are Moses and his friends really the badass gangstas they appear to be in the opening scene? If you can watch this and honestly say yes, holy crap I hope you never come face to face with an honest to God hoodlum. I mean come on, when the kids are gathering their ‘weapons’ (mostly fireworks and samurai swords – not a real pistol among them, I actually think the Frog Brothers were able to assemble a deadlier arsenal in Lost Boys) Dennis (Franz Drameh)’s parent hollers for him to walk the dog AND HE DOES.  Pest (Alex Esmail) wants to lock himself in his room and play FIFA on Xbox. Not really a bunch of hardened criminals, these guys.

Yes some of the kids smoke weed and idolize a gangster (Hi-Hatz, played very well by Jumayn Hunter. And really, though he does carry a gun, he’s not one of the boys, and he’s something of a fool. It cracks me up that he takes every opportunity to play and rap along to his own demo tape –Get the weed! Get the strap! Don’t give a fuck! BLAP BLAP BLAP!), but unlikeable? They display the same camaraderie and regard for each other as The Goonies (see how the kids refuse to abandon Moses even when he’s nabbed by a couple of cops), and though their world view is skewed, it makes perfect sense in the context of their environment. I think a great example of that is when they burst into Sam’s apartment and are amazed to find her there, at one point admitting (to her exasperation) that if they knew she was from the block, they never would’ve mugged her.

I would rather run into any of the ATB kids than one of these guys on the streets of South London.

To put it another way, I can name any number of extremely popular movies where the main characters are a thousand times more terrible than these kids. How about Scarface? The Godfather Trilogy? And yet, these characters are generally beloved by cinephiles when for the most part, they don’t even seek redemption let alone find it. But…they’re white.So what’s really going on here?

 As to the characters being static, the movie plainly states its thesis of actions have consequences. Moses’ killing of the female alien is what sparks the attack on the block, and it can be inferred, the deaths of several people, including his friends. And Moses plainly reasons this out and is pained by it. In the end he accepts responsibility for it – quite literally when he acts as bait to ultimately destroy the things.

It’s very telling that of the three characters the police arrest and escort out of the block (Brewis, Pest, and finally Moses) at the end, Moses is the only that doesn’t resist or cause a scene.

Finally, as to the lifestyles of the kids being glorified, I can think of no more poignant moment in the film than when Sam sees the disarray of Moses’ apartment (trash and old pizza boxes etc), and upon seeing his Spider-Man bed sheets asks him if he has a little brother, to which he obliviously replies no. Is this a glorification of Moses’ lifestyle? Didn’t seem very glorious to me. Not a tiger or a room sized bathtub or a desk with a mountain of cocaine in sight.

But enough response to criticisms, more on what I love about this movie.

The soundtrack is excellent, with the main title theme like a hip-hop version of 1950’s space invasion Theremin music, to say nothing of the inclusion of some great head bobbing tracks like KRS One’s classic Sound Of Da Police.

The performances are without a weak point, from the brilliant kids (what a windfall Cornish had in finding such a talented group of youngsters!) to Luke Treadway’s twitchy well-to-do and sorely out of place pot buyer Brewis, Nick Frost’s schlubby, cowardly weed dealer Ron (“Maybe there was a party at the zoo and a monkey fucked a fish,” he thoughtfully observes upon first seeing the dead alien), and the two eight year old wannabes who tag along like anxious puppies and insists on being called Mayhem and Probs (“Nobody’s ever gonna call you Mayhem if you don’t stop acting like such a pussy!”).

The aliens are minimalist and cool, nothing more than featureless, (with the help of CGI) blacker than black “hairy gorilla-wolf motherfuckers” with rows of blue luminous teeth. They reminded me of the rat creatures from Jeff Smith’s Bone. Their locomotion, a sort of high speed primate lope, is particularly cool and harrowing.

The violence is gory and shocking, and the kids aren’t spared because of their tender age. But don’t get me wrong, the movie is also hilarious. The dialogue is fresh and funny, with much of the situational humor just coming from the interactions. Brewis’ attempts to be ‘cool’ with the kids are great, and make their eventual acceptance of him endearing.

I think if you enjoyed Shaun Of The Dead (and if you didn’t, just stop reading this page and go watch Zack Snyder’s terrible Dawn Of The Dead remake or something), you’ll enjoy it.

Best bit of dialogue:

After their initial contact with the savage blue toothed aliens, Jerome (Leeon Jones) announces his intent to send everybody warning texts, but sees his prepaid is down to one text.

He bemoans;

“I’ve only got one text left! It’s too much madness for one text!”

Best scene:

Early in the film, Brewis waits for the elevator only to have Moses and the boys show up as the doors open. He stammers, “I’ll catch the next one then, shall I?” as the boys impassively shrug past him and get on, leaving him standing.

Much later, after the alien attack is in full swing, Hi-Hatz and his two armed cronies wind up being chased into the elevator by one of the aliens. The door closes and the car descends, multiple gunshots, screams, and alien screeches the only hint we get of what’s happening.

“Better take the next one, blood.”

Brewis has just found his wrecked car (it’s the very same car the first alien crash landed on) and paranoid at the heavy ‘po-po’ presence, is returning to the safety of Ron’s. He approaches the elevator just as the door opens.

The interior of the elevator is a veritable abbatoir, blood splashed and loaded with corpses.

Hi-Hatz emerges, drenched in blood.

“Better get the next one, blood,” he says, and walks by, leaving Brewis dumbfounded.

NEXT IN THE QUEUE:  The Back To The Future Trilogy

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. ATTACK THE BLOCK is the best John Carpenter movie never made by John Carpenter.

    • Yeah it had a very ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 kinda vibe.

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