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Attack the Block (2011)

From the DVD Shelf: Attack the Block

November 23rd, 2011
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I’d been reading about Joe Cornish’s directorial debut, the British sci-fi/horror/comedy film Attack the Block, all year.  The low-budget film was a hit on the festival circuit, and was trumpeted by several of my favorite on-line film reviewers, notably Drew McWeeny at and Devin Faraci at  It received a U.S. theatrical release, but sadly came and went from theatres pretty quickly.  When the film was released on blu-ray last month, I was excited to track it down.

The film is terrific, and I’d wager that if you enjoyed UK-based action/comedies such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Layer Cake, then you’ll really dig Attack the Block.

The titular “block” refers to a low-income housing unit in Kennington, England.  The film’s main characters are a small band of kids from the block who try to escape their lives of poverty and boredom at home by wreaking havoc on the streets.  When we first meet them, they’re egging on their leader, Moses (John Boyega in a star-making role), to beat an unidentifiable creature to death.  Then they mug Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a young single nurse who also lives in the block.  It’s the start of a fine evening for the boys, until an alien invasion spoils all their fun.  Yep, turns out the creature they beat to death was a little alien, who has a lot of angry friends.

The genius of Attack the Block is the way it marries sci-fi alien invasion movie conventions with the street-level young-tough humor of Guy Ritchie’s early films.  Generally these types of alien invasions strike New York City, not a run-down English inner city.  But, of course, watching these street hudlums face an alien apocalypse is the deliriously clever premise of the film, and the source of all the fun.

Not that Attack the Block is all fun and games.  In fact, the early-going isn’t that funny at all.  The gang’s mugging of Sam is an unsettling sequence, not the type of scene you’d expect to find in a film with comedy on its mind.  But writer/director Joe Cornish cleverly sets the stakes of the film to be very high right from the beginning.  This is a world in which bad things happen.  That mugging scene demonstrates that the characters in this film face real peril, thus escalating the dramatic tension.  It also gives a real character-arc to the boys in Moses’ gang.  I intensely disliked the boys at first, but absolutely grew to love them by the end.  It’s a pretty impressive achievement of story-telling, and is a critical reason that the films works as well as it does.

The other is in the way in which, while the … [continued]