"Attack the Block" (2011) Film Review
It's a crime that Joe Cornish hasn't directed a single film since Attack the Block.
He finally has two projects lined up for the future, but when your feature film debut is as solid as Attack the Block, you should be handed the keys to the kingdom for basically anything you want. To be fair, Attack the Block is one of those movies that was basically destined to become a cult film in the long run, barely screened in the U.S. and only heavily shown in the U.K. where it underperformed financially. Ever since John Boyega became a breakout movie star in a variety of projects and specifically a lead in the Star Wars films, people seem to have started discovering Attack the Block.
I usually leave my experience with a movie out of my reviews, but I do want to illustrate something about Attack the Block. I bought the film sight unseen from a Best Buy at the beginning of 2012. I'd heard a ton about it from film critics and it sounded right up my alley. I watched it the same day I bought it in my family's basement and it completely floored me. I knew it would be a cult film right then and there. I loved the characters, I loved its creatures, I loved its soundtrack, but I especially loved its actors, Jodie Whittaker and John Boyega in particular. I wanted them to become superstars, so imagine my excitement when they announced John Boyega was going to be a lead in a Star Wars film. And while I don't watch Doctor Who, you can bet I almost lost my mind on the spot when they announced Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor (seriously, best of luck to her).
I've literally been waiting for years for Attack the Block to build the following it deserves, and it seems to be happening, slowly but surely. Every time John Boyega stars in a big movie, it comes back up. On that note, with the release of Pacific Rim: Uprising, it's time I wrote a full length review for the cult classic that's still building its cult.
Attack the Block takes place on Guy Fawkes Night in South London, starting when Sam (Jodie Whittaker) gets off of her shift as a nurse. On her way home, a gang of local boys mug her, led by a boy named Moses (John Boyega), but the mugging is interrupted when a nearby car is struck by an object from the sky, giving Sam time to flee. Moses and his gang find an alien creature that scratches Moses' face, prompting him to kill it. This decision has devastating consequences as more aliens fall from the sky, far larger and far more dangerous than the first one to land. Through a series of increasingly worse events involving police officers, a local gangster, and more, Sam finds herself forced to help Moses and his gang survive the night when it turns out they all live in the same apartment complex.
It's a setup that sounds more complicated than it actually feels in execution. The film neatly sets up payoffs throughout with a precision that does feel a bit too predictable at times, but each successive payoff is so satisfying that it eclipses the predictability completely (and I will say that one payoff involving a pair of ten year old hoodlums is genuinely shocking even if you know to look for it ahead of time). The script also sells the hell out of the characters, taking a seemingly unsympathetic group of muggers and builds them into characters you root for.
That seems to be a sticking point for some people, the fact that Attack the Block actively campaigns for audience sympathy towards "criminals." I put criminals in quotes because it becomes clear that Attack the Block has social commentary on its mind from minute one, and its commentary that's shockingly well handled. The movie itself does laugh off some of its own social commentary, but most of it organically enters the stories at key points where the story slows down to catch its breath.
But man is this movie at its best when its building set pieces around the monsters. As much poignant as Attack the Block can be at times, that's not the main selling point here. The main selling point is watching British hoodlums try to fight "big alien gorilla wolf motherf****ers" using baseball bats, a katana, a machete, fireworks, an ice skate, and anything else they can get their hands on. Each set-piece is backed by a seriously phenomenal original musical score by Steven Price. The last two tracks of music in this film set to the film's final sequences are some of my favorite recent sci-fi film tracks and build as much momentum as the set-pieces themselves.
The set-pieces range from chases, to close quarters combat, to even a sequence that's ripped straight from something like a John Carpenter film where the group has to navigate a smoke filled hallway as the lights go on and off. For a film as deliriously fun as Attack the Block, it executes on some horror sequences with ruthless efficiency. The film earns an R-rating for a healthy dose of profanity and violence throughout (with one death being particularly nasty, but well earned for the character in question). It helps a lot that the monster design is beautifully simple, beasts with black hair and glowing teeth. That's the whole design, a design that's a great combination of instantly iconic visuals and surprisingly cheap to pull off.
The only drawback to Attack the Block is so minor that it's not a drawback at all. This film's British accents are thick, and it can take nearly ten minutes to start understanding what anyone is saying at first. The adjustment period won't take too long though, but I will be honest with you and admit that there are a few lines in this film I don't understand and I've watched this movie on and off for over five years.
That last line should tell you everything you need to know though, the fact that I've been watching it on and off for the last five years. Attack the Block is a real deal cult film that deserves the biggest cult it can muster.
Maybe I'll post this review every time a new major film with John Boyega comes out with the hope that the cult of Attack the Block gets just a bit larger. In fact, I think I'm going to do just that.