Editor’s note: This review was originally published on July 22 but has be re-posted to coincide with its U.S. theatrical release.
Kids these days, I tell ya. If they aren’t talking back to adults and breaking all the rules, they’re carrying weapons and saving the planet from aliens. Wait…you wanna run that last part by me again? No, you read it right, Attack the Block is a fun, frightening film that pits 5 wanna-be hoodlums from South London against alien creatures that are literally falling from the sky. From the mind of Joe Cornish (long time Edgar Wright collaborator) comes this entertaining flick full of frenetic aliens, foul-mouthed Brits, friendship, fighting and tons of fun!
A wonderfully gritty, simplistic and guerrilla style of film, this mix of humor and mayhem in Attack the Block plays like a story that was written by kids just about the age of the main characters. Not a bad thing at all as the film never goes close to elements that would make it feel self-aware and that’s maybe the brilliance behind it. The kids are dealing with something they know nothing about. Sure there’s the slightest hint to tell you what might be going on but to them (and the audience) it’s pretty much like finding your way through a smokey corridor. You really have to feel your way through this reacting on purely on instinct; fight or flight…and the kids from the block choose to attack.
It’s a little hard to describe the film as the characters aren’t heroes, they aren’t villains, they aren’t even anti-heroes. When the story begins, we find them attempting to mug a woman yet as unsavory as they might seem, it’s revealed that these social parasites aren’t half as bad-ass (or even bad) as they’re perpetrating. Moreover, when things get serious and shit hits the fan (or falls from space would be more accurate) we find they’re just normal, albeit misunderstood, kids dealing with things not even adults could have handled much better and rise to the occasion in the only way they know how. Like kids always do, they pretend to be tougher than they really are and in this case rise to the occasion. Their arms are exactly what you’d expect from hooligans who’ve seen Scarface too many times – decorative samurai swords, baseball bats and poppers (fireworks). Noted they’re unlikely ways to dispatch these fore-to unknown alien hostiles but still prove to be effective; like something out of a Charles Bronson film…had Charlie been a kid himself and fought off aliens of course.
I guess you could say this is pretty much the British answer to The Monster Squad, which in itself was a genre specific film. Further, you’re sure to get hints of pretty much any Amblin kids movie from the 80s making it a B-movie romp with nostalgic leanings. A fun ride all the way through it’s quick, surprisingly fun and, in some ways, pretty original. I have to say the aliens are very slick and effective simply because, like many memorable screen creatures, they’re cloaked in mystery and slow reveals. Minimalist and interesting I have to say they’re one of the more memorable aliens I’ve seen in a long time.
Although some parts may play out like Cornish is intentionally making parts of Attack the Block in that bad B-Movie manner, the film is greater than the sum of its parts. Even though it’s cliche and filled with characters that aren’t very memorable the combination of the kids (many acting for the first time), the editing and the writing never let it sink to that groan-worthy level that would make this prime to wind up in your supermarket special bin. That said this does feel like a low budget attempt from Cornish (this being his first feature-length effort)…but he has a knack, a definite style and could do so much more had he been backed by a bigger studio. Attack the Block shows less is more and a good movie can still exist using less than the best parts/players which is probably why the film works. Like the kids, it’s an underdog trying to over-achieve and in that respect it does in spades despite some missteps. I’m eager to see what Cornish will do in the future.
Now many people have probably read or been told this is produced by Edgar Wright and that Nick Frost is a character (but not a star) but those bits might be misleading. So before you go expecting an Edgar Wright film sans Simon Pegg let me stop you right there. Just like Chris Columbus and J.J. Abrams have worked heavily with their mentors and then confidently spun off to helm their own projects, Joe Cornish’s film is a Joe Cornish film; that is distinction enough. So expect a film that it Wright like, not Lite and you’ll likely love the film because it paves its own way. It really stands on its own two feet as an enjoyable, scary, at times indecipherable, and lighting fast thriller.
A mixed bag of elements all seemingly culled from late night-titles known for their craziness, Attack the Block delivers a solid film that is frenetic, fierce and very funny. These kids handle an alien encounter with a little more guff and attitude than their Super 8 counterparts and as such I’d gladly want to see it again much sooner than J.J. Abrams’ love-letter to Spielberg. One thing though, I’d like to make it clear that I enjoyed it a lot more than our rating system would allow so take that with a grain of salt when you see the graphic below (read: it really deserves a 3.5). Simply put, this flick is straight dope and I ain’t even lying. Jump in your whip and see it now Bruv! Believe!
P.S. Before you go seek this great film out for yourself, please take a moment let the star and director of Attack the Block remind you to be courteous in the cinema and obey rule number one…