This review was originally published on March 15, 2011
The dark streets of South London are not where a young woman wants to be caught walking alone at night, but since Sam (Jodie Whittaker) resides in that neighborhood she has little choice. Confronted by a group of five masked youth on bicycles, one armed with a switchblade she’s mugged, having her phone, wallet and ring stolen when suddenly, the car beside them explodes from an object fallen from the sky. As the leader Moses (John Boyega) goes to investigate he’s attacked by a creature from outer space. The aliens are invading their block, and it’s up to this gang of young hoodlums to put a stop to them.
Joe Cornish’s first full length feature film “Attack the Block” is now the most talked about selection at SXSW and for good reason. It is a loving version of 80s monster movies mixed with modern sensibilities, a cadre of laughs, a rollicking score from Basement Jaxx, standout performances from a group of young first timers and appearances from Nick Frost (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) and Luke Treadaway (“Clash of the Titans,” “Heartless”). In a world where we’re inundated with awkward and just plain awful looking CGI monsters and blood, it’s a testament to Cornish and crew for instead going the route of using a man in a monster suit with just the right amount of CG, giving the creatures a much more fluid and realistic feel. With a monster movie, it’s imperative they deliver a sense of dread and we’ve never seen anything like these beasts. Described by their victims as “big, hairy, black wolf dog mother f*****s!” and sporting pitch black hair, glowing blue, razor sharp teeth and no eyes, they’re intimidating, frightening and tough. These beasts are unforgiving and nobody is safe. Like the movies it’s influenced by, the body count is high, the gore is bloody and the body pieces are flying.
“Attack the Block” has many successes, the strongest being its young cast of newcomers paired with a few key veterans. We can already appreciate the comedic sensibilities of Nick Frost and he certainly shines as an always stoned, low level drug dealer. Luke Treadaway as Brewis, a rich white kid from the better side of London who has headed south in search of some weed only to end up in the middle of the mess, is witty and charming and Jodie Whittaker is a beautiful girl next door who develops from a victim to a strong, fierce fighter herself. Everyone here really is outstanding, but the true standout is Boyega’s Moses, the leader of the gang. Running the gamut of emotions from tough guy leader, afraid of nothing, to later opening up to Sam about his situation in life, all while trying to keep his crew alive and fight off the impending invasion and monsters that crop up at every corner, Boyega sets himself apart and bares a good part of the weight on his shoulders quite easily.
In the Q&A that followed Cornish said that when developing the ideas for the score, he looked to the works of John Carpenter, who favored using basslines over hi-hats and snares for building excitement and tension. Instead of cutting the movie to the soundtrack, another modern day trick that he decries, “Attack the Block” was first edited and then later had its bass heavy, thumping score added in, a technique that not only gives us a soundtrack that must be picked up, but also keeps a legitimacy to the movie’s roots.
Cornish and executive producer Edgar Wright (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Hot Fuzz”), in the Q&A stated they were worried about getting picked up because of the heavy use of slang by the teens (an intentional choice to keep the dialog legitimate), but considering how Euro centric audiences have become the past few years and that Guy Ritchie’s accent heavy movies “Snatch” and “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” both had successful releases, that particular barrier seems absurd. It’s been years since we have had a monster movie as exciting, as thrilling, as cleverly put together and just plain excellent as “Attack the Block,” not having it end up released would be a massive shame.