“Attack the Block” brings the goods

By Drew Hunt

One of the most practiced activities in the film geek community is predicting the next “cult classic.” Considering cult classics usually earn the title after years of obscurity and glacial word-of-mouth, predicting one is a difficult task—especially considering the influence of the Internet, which has effectively erased obscurity and word-of-mouth. But in a world where the Internet didn’t exist, “Attack the Block,” the debut feature from writer director Joe Cornish, would surely be a prime candidate to earn the title.

Set in the South London neighborhood of Brixton—an area known for its rampant crime and widespread poverty—the film centers around a group of teenage miscreants led by the stoic Moses (John Boyega) who, after mugging an unsuspecting woman named Sam (Jodie Whittaker), discover an alien life form has crash-landed on earth. Though they swiftly dispose of the beast, their actions attract the attention of even more extraterrestrial creatures—ones that aren’t nearly as easily defeated. Soon, everyone on their block is in danger, leaving it up to Moses and his crew to save the day.

With its tightly structured script and inventive performances, “Attack the Block” is a relentlessly entertaining genre flick. If the summer blockbuster season calls for escapism, this film represents a welcome respite from the typical fare. Where other sci-fi movies lack originality—via stereotypical characterizations or flimsy narrative techniques—“Attack the Block” is both frightening and hilarious in equal measure, and Cornish, a first time film director whose career has largely existed in television, possesses a unique and lively perspective on horror cinema.

The film is likely to draw comparisons to something such as “Shaun of the Dead,” and justifiably so. Not only do Edgar Wright and Nick Frost both lend a hand—as an executive producer and supporting actor, respectively—but like “Shaun,” “Attack the Block” finds distinction among its genre cohorts by placing theme and identity over references and homage. The film has a distinct voice that, rather than lifting from existing material to make obvious and unimaginative references to other movies, finds its footing in a universe that feels tangible, despite the inanity of its premise.

As a result, one can revel fully in the film’s theme park ride aesthetic. As Moses and crew wield samurai swords and baseball bats, a youthful exuberance spills off the screen in ways that big budget Hollywood flicks can only dream of achieving.

Yet there’s a solemnity to “Attack the Block.” Though Moses ends the film a hero, his first appearance is that of a villain, holding up a defenseless Sam. He and his ragtag crew aren’t the most admirable bunch, but it doesn’t take long before their true characters come to the surface. Cornish utilizes a unique narrative tactic when Sam and Moses begin to rely on each other for safety as their night of terror unfolds.

Though it may be a cliché, it’s obvious that these hooligans are more a product of their environment than an inherently malicious posse—an environment richly contextualized with South London slang and landscapes and populated with amateur actors hand-picked from the neighborhood itself.

This distinct feel of authenticity coupled with a zany monster-movie premise is a tough line to balance, but “Attack the Block” is nimble in execution. It’s the kind of film that should play at midnight screenings for genre enthusiasts for years to come.