Written and directed by Joe Cornish, Attack the Block is a 2011 action horror comedy showcasing that Guy Fawkes night must really get the ol’ blood pumping for the British because not even an alien invasion can squelch the revelry. Things are about to get spoilery after the trailer, but suffice to say under no circumstances should the realization of an alien crash landing prompt excited and brutal gang violence on said creature(s). Read on to see how that works out for the kids from “the block”.
Reviewed by: Jake
“The Block” is a lower-income housing area in London (I hesitate greatly to call it the projects) where the types of things that you hear about in lower income housing areas happen. A group of punk ass kids mug a twenty-something nursing student, Sam (Jodie Whittaker) on Guy Fawkes night, only to be interrupted by a meteorite crashing into a nearby car. Sam escapes and the gang checks it out, only to have something lash out at their leader Moses, (John Boyega). Acting in a totally rational and not at all troubling way, this excites the kids and their brains basically click into the mode that future serial killers have where they torture bugs with magnifying glasses. They kill the alien and excitedly parade its corpse around like a trophy, trying to impress ladies and certain they will be credited with a major scientific discovery.
They take the dead creature to the safest and most trustworthy location on the block, the neighborhood pot operation, to house it until they decide how to cash out on their finding. After smoking a few blunts with their boy Ron (Nick Frost) the boys are thrilled to hear more meteorites crashing into the block. They excitedly stock up and get ready to slaughter more meek-ass aliens. There’s a slight problem this time though as these aliens look nothing like the fleshy sad-sack they dispatched earlier in the evening. These are “big alien gorilla wolf mother fuckers” with hair so black it allows no light to escape its furry grasps and a mandibles made of razor sharp teeth that look endowed with whatever makes glow worms shine. Or maybe it's whatever made the Aggro Crag look so radical in Global Guts.
Needless to say, things go south in a hurry. Their dog dies (because it’s a horror movie) and then the creatures start hunting down the humans. They pick off some cops and make their way towards the boys, who are also conveniently caught up in a scuffle with the block’s weed mogul, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) after crashing into his whip. Naturally, things come full circle with the gang and Sam, as they are attacked by the aliens and retreat to her flat. The life-or-death scenario pulls out some good old fashioned teamwork from the situation and the group sticks together to fight the creatures. Several of the group are killed as they retreat further and further up the building towards the fortified weed room, and as the gang prepares to make their last stand, they come to the realization that the alien they killed is a female, and the big alien gorilla wolf mother fuckers are just trying to track her down via pheromones she got all over Moses when he killed her. They set a trap for the aliens by turning on a gas stove and strapping the female’s carcass to Moses’ back. He proceeds to run through the apartment and draw the creatures into the kitchen where he throws the female and launches a firework at the stove, igniting the gas and blowing the bastards to kingdom come. The cops close in on the block and arrest Moses because it looks A LOT like he just spree killed a bunch of people, but the surviving members of the group point out that he is in fact a hero, saving them from the alien scourge. People cheer. Moses smiles. Screen goes black.
What the Movie Does Right
Cinematography. There are quite a few instances where Attack the Block shines in this regard. Chief among them is the final sequence where Moses runs through the halls of the apartment building with the dead female alien strapped to his back, wielding roman candles. The slow motion sequence where he dives through the living room full of the male aliens (maliens?) and lures them into the kitchen, blowing it all up and jumping out the window is excellently shot. Apparently it took a week to film and the attention to the importance of the sequence really shows. It’s almost Benny the Jet Rodriguez runs from the Beast-level goodness. Almost.
Also, let’s take a step back and think about the above visual. This is a kid running from a slew of creatures that are very unique looking with a dead female strapped to his back, while wielding a katana and carrying a firework in his mouth. How many other alien movies, or just movies for that matter, have something even remotely like this happening? Answer: not many. There is a uniqueness to the setting and cast of characters in this film that is pretty delightful to watch, from the first meteorite crashing into the block to the final, explosive blow that eradicates the aliens. Think about it, these are basically really horny animals. They happen to be from another planet, yeah, but that’s almost aside the point. There’s no legwork done on the how or why the aliens are here and the movie is better off as a whole for it.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Wherefore art thou, Nick Frost?This is more of a personal soapbox against some of the tactics that are used in billing films, but all I knew about Attack the block was that Nick Frost was in it. And while that isn’t wrong, the dude barely has any screen time. He’s a bit part that could easily have been cut completely and the movie would not have suffered in the slightest. It might have even been a bit more focused as a result because then you won’t be wondering what happened to Nick Frost and why he isn’t on screen more frequently. Now, both Whittaker and Boyega have had stellar recent track records, but the Frost man is a special beast and for either budgetary or creative concerns, he was used to an awkward degree in this film. I didn’t care for it.
As a final note, it’s worth mentioning that the creatures look fairly CG heavy from time to time. It’s inconsistent, and that’s the main problem. There were suits used, but due to the ambitious design, there is some significant CG touch-upping that took place, and sometimes it looks fucking dumb.
Another area where this movie struggles is in the believability department. My first reaction was that it didn’t matter. Sure, aliens can crash into just this one area of London and kids can fight them. Fine. But then you throw in Whittaker’s character and the attempted drama related to the gang’s hooliganism. Then you add the legal element with the cops on the group’s case and it all begins to grate a bit. The attempted drama related to Moses’ arrest at the end of the film falls completely flat because we all know there is plenty of evidence of an alien attack. It’s London. There’s going to be video of the creatures. There is no way Moses would ever take the rap for this and as the viewer, we know it. The cheering and chanting of his name is overshadowed by the fact that the kid was safe to begin with.
Story: 6 - this is an “alien, they come to us” movie with a charming and relatively silly bend. I enjoyed the general idea behind this one, but it was not extremely unique. There were also some general plot elements that just didn’t need to be there that keep this from being a high score.
World-Building / Immersion: 4 - Mileage will vary with this one, but I found it a little hard to understand what was being said by the cast in this movie. There were some intense accents. Aside from that, it could have benefitted from being a bit tighter and there were characters that had no real purpose in the film.
Scare-Factor: 2 - This is primarily a comedy. It’s hard to be scared when the main characters themselves are itching to punch/katana/firework the aliens’ faces off of their faces.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6 - There was some good cinematography in this film. I mentioned that there were instances where the aliens could have looked a bit better, but I’m not really sure what the alternative would have been to the approach the filmmakers took, so it’s hard to go too low.
Overall: 5.5 - This was a relatively unique and totally serviceable movie from the perspective of having a good time watching some kids bashing aliens. That being said, this is barely a horror movie, and this being a horror movie site, it’s hard to give it too many thumbs-up. Proceed, dear reader, but know what you’re getting into.