Attack the Block (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Attack the Block (2011)

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The creature effects are stunning in Attack the Block, only using CG for the aliens' mouths.

Without betraying a single magnificent shot of his film, Joe Cornish establishes just what to expect by pumping in the opening notes of a stupifyingly superb soundtrack from Basement Jaxx.  We hear a weird mix of old science fiction sounds, some high fantasy bombast and a hip-hop track keeps the estranged lines of music together.  It's nervy, exciting, and sounds like very little I've heard before.

The movie does not disappoint, and the soundtrack drives it all onward.  You can trace the DNA from Attack the Block to John Carpenter's earlier films, combining the effects of The Thing with the grungy humor of the Escape From movies, but Attack is its own strange beast.

Much like the music accompanying it, Attack wastes no time in getting to the plot at hand.  Within four minutes of the film starting we've seen a gang led by Moses (John Boyega) mug a poor nurse names Sam (Jodie Whitaker) who is just trying to get home.  They're interrupted by a falling comet which turns out to be an alien who attacks Moses and the gang decides to kill the offending creature before the camera pans up and we see this little thing is only the first of hundreds.

By this time I knew I had fallen head-over-heels in love with the movie.  The humor is wonderfully subtle, relying on unspoken connections between the gang members and Moses as well as a number of great sight gags.  The best of this comes when the invasion proper has begun and each one of them goes home to get armed, coming out with more outlandish weapons each time ranging from a bat to a ninja sword.

"Hoods" wouldn't care nearly as much as Moses' crew does.

Then there's the matter of the pacing.  There will not be a single film this year less interested in wasting your time or making some kind of grandstanding point.  If the gang isn't fighting the aliens they're being threatened, doing some threatening themselves, or engaged in a number of hilariously setting-specific dialogue exchanges.

Part of the joy of Attack comes in the way Cornish utilizes their characters familiarity with their London slums to their advantage.  Either through great little phrases ("Rockets go up before coming down.  Those things are pure coming down.") or the multitude of quick escapes the gang must orchestrate by utilizing back-alleys and buildings along the way.  This block is their home, and damn if they don't do a damn honorable job in protecting it.

Even though the film is filled to the brim with straight action it still has a nice undercurrent of sexual fear.  Moses attacks Sam partly out of a desire to act out against a perceived higher class, but also as a way of asserting his recently developed masculinity.  His greatest fear of inadequacy is summoned after he murders the initial scared female alien.  The aliens who follow the initial kill are not as harmless and easy to spot, they are the rampaging male libido unable to see anything but the female they can no longer have.

This puts one layer of subtext on a plot already brimming with the kind of class warfare commentary the British do so well.  The "haves" from up high are content with letting the "have-nots" pick themselves apart while the aliens get the scraps and are just tired enough to finally let the Upper Crust take them down.  Sometime in his past, Cornish must have been taking notes on Mike Leigh's Naked.

Stoic and passionate all at once while remaining believeable in those extremes.

Aside from the zesty camerawork and genre blending, Attack will serve as a calling-card for each of its excellent young performers.  But as well as everyone does, no one touches the intensity of John Boyega.  He reminds me of a more relaxed Michael Shannon, able to channel great intensity into his scenes but without sacrificing some of the vulnerability of his age and condition.  For a film already packed to the brim with excellence, Boyega deserves to get quite a bit of work after showcasing the range he has here.

There are sure to be people who have found Attack the Block insufferable and, worse, droll.  But their taste for fun is not to be admired, nor pitied, just regarded as an unfortunate facet of existence that can produce a film as chilling and exciting as Attack.  Any film which finally bucks the trend of the heroic dog has more to offer than anyone could dream of.

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Attack the Block (2011)

Written and directed by Joe Cornish.
Starring John Boyega and Jodie Whitaker.

Posted by Andrew

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