Attack the Block

Certificate: 15
Running Time: 88 mins
Director: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail
Starring: Joe Cornish
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Comedy
Country: UK

The yoof of today take on the biggest, nastiest invasion London has seen since the last time Manchester City played at Wembley.  With the future of mankind at stake will any of us live long enough to collect our next ASBO?  Joe Cornish (of Adam & Joe fame, and screenwriter of forthcoming Ant-Man) takes the helm to direct his first feature in this inner city alien invasion surprise hit.

Of late the key element in a lot of reviews on KiV has been identity.  Attack the Block demonstrates this perfectly.  Having written the screenplay (as well as directing) Joe Cornish has created one of those magical movies that walks the lines between two worlds, two genres beautifully.  Like Fulci’s Zombi it tells the small story.  Alien invasion is a big-world-issue but unlike Independence Day, or even Battle: LA [review here], Attack the Block focuses on small personal stories in order to highlight the big picture.  Narratively this is executed perfectly.  Placing the text on a London estate transcends the audiences expectations before delivering a psychological truism to those watching.  The initial fear and apprehension (that audience members might feel) from imagining themselves in this environment, surrounded by these kids is transformed into an odd feeling of security as the first wave of the invasion touches down and we are shepherded back to the relative safety of the block.  Yet it’s in the final third that Cornish delivers the real, fear, claustrophobia, anxiety, dread as the dark hoard invasion descend on the estate turning the concrete tower into a fortress under siege by an enemy more than capable of penetrating it.  Suddenly the intuitive instinct this is not a safe place kicks into overdrive and it is here where Attack the Block earns its plaudits.

The visual style of the film is beautiful.  It’s crisp, solid, uncomplicated when dealing with the everyday; the mundane.  Yet the representation of the alien invaders is stylish, almost reminiscent of the French animation style presented in Renaissance.  It is not just a simple representation, it’s not just a financially clever representation, it’s a psychological representation that plays on our inner fears, the inner fears held by our inner child.  After all, if we’re afraid of the dark, afraid of what’s under the bed, afraid of what’s hiding in the shadows, isn’t it scarier when what we’re afraid of is as dark as the shadows?  Where do the shadows end?  Where does the creatures start?  Magnificent.

The action set-pieces are extremely well shot and put together, there are some very nice moments that are set up organically in the first act only to pay out in the second and third act –there’s nothing worse than having something so out of context on screen you can’t help but think that’ll come in handy later.  There are also some extremely strong performances on display.  John Boyega (Moses) is a young actor with a lot of responsibility.  Not only is he the lead, but he’s the lead in a debut director’s movie, he’s the lead in a genre movie, he has a lot of screen time to be responsible for, a lot of narrative he has to drive and he handles it all with the greatest of ease.  Boyega gives the kind of measured performance that you would be surprised to see from an actor two decades his senior.  A strong anti-hero who, even when saving the world, does it in such a way that you never lose sight of the complicated, mixed-up, darkly ambiguous character he is.  Yes there’s heart there, yes he’s had some tough breaks but those breaks have also toughened him.  What will become of him?  Similarly, Alex Esmail (as Pest) puts in a shift and a half with the kind of thankless supporting role that takes quality to deliver.  His job carries a lot of responsibility for exposition and it’s one he never falters in.  Leeon Jones and Franz Drameh round off the hooded youth gang well and Jodie Whittaker does a great job not just in character but also holding the mirror for the audience. 

Attack the Block has a strong message stitched into the fabric of the narrative.  It’s a narrative on perception, judgment, strengths and fears.  In a post recession, Conservative run Britain that’s all too eager to follow the Daily Mail’s line of finger pointing and blaming immigration and homosexuality for everything it stands defiantly, holds the mirror up and says…really?!  There are large sections of Attack the Block that are reminiscent of Enemy Territory yet ATB handle the subtext more skilfully and with a levity that’s incredibly endearing.


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