Review: Attack the Block (SXSW)
PLOT - Five South London teenagers run afoul of a mysterious race of aliens who have crash landed in their backyard. Along with a nurse, a stoner, a drug dealer and two wanna-be gangster kids, they must protect themselves, their neighborhood and figure out why the aliens have it in for them so badly.
REVIEW - Director Joe Cornish described his directorial debut as "SUPER 8 MILE," a mash-up of the gritty inner-city drama 8 MILE and the upcoming JJ Abrams alien invastion/Spielberg lovefest flick. While he was perhaps being cheeky, it'd venture (SUPER 8 sight still unseen), the description is still very apt.
Instead of following a group of precocious and cute kids, ATTACK THE BLOCK centers on five South London hoodlums with names like Biggz and Probs. It's a bold move to ask your audience to be patient enough to be sympathetic with a ground of thuggish punks who open the movie by robbing a young nurse at knifepoint but the aliens arrive quickly and soon enough our teens are forced to align themselves with their victim just to stay alive.
It's hard to discuss ATTACK THE BLOCK without giving too much away at this early game and its many surprises are what makes the film such a rousing success. It owes much, in terms of tone, to films like CRITTERS, TERMINATOR and PREDATOR (a tight group of normal people on the run from a mysterious and monstrous villain) but unlike some recent films, never overtly references any previous films in a wink-wink way.
I'm not sure what the budget of ATTACK THE BLOCK was but Cornish uses every dollar to its utmost benefit and while it was likely a fairly low-budgeted affair, Cornish and his crew use a lot of smoke and mirrors (sometimes literally) to build the suspense and tension while saving some of the alien money shots for when they're necessary.
While you've probably seen Nick Frost's name mentioned most frequently with the film, he provides a quick supporting comic role and much of the attention should go to our gang of kids. They're all local South London teens, many of which have no real acting experience. There is likely big things ahead for John Boyega, the young actor behind Moses, the de facto gang leader who's like a young 50 Cent if, you know, 50 Cent could actually act. (You'll also likely be hearing more from Luke Treadway, an up-and-coming British star, with a deftly funny turn as a trust fund stoner who's along for the ride.)
As the stakes get higher for our group, our sympathies grow with them. Cornish wisely keeps the gang's victim (Jodie Whittaker) with them acting as a surrogate for the audience and throughout the trouble, so as they bond and depend on each other for survival, our feeling softens and the same young punk who mugged a woman in the film's first two minutes is now the wounded (in both literal and figurative ways) hero we're cheering for during the film's climax.
It's the reason we go to film festivals to be able to experience movies like ATTACK THE BLOCK, a smart, scary, funny and wonderfully executed bit of commercial cinema. When many have tried (and failed) to emulate the success and tone of SHAUN OF THE DEAD since that film's release, Cornish achieves it in spades and puts his name right up alongside Edgar Wright (one of the producers of this film) as an English director we hope to be watching for a long time.