Thursday, February 09, 2012

Movies You May Have Missed - Attack The Block (2011)

Attack The Block! (shouted in a South London accent) What does that mean, exactly? The Block is a South London neighborhood that's being invaded by space aliens. A gang of youngsters and would-be criminals have to defend their 19-story council estate from untold horror. Sounds good, right? It is!

Writer and director Joe Cornish's first feature has received excellent reviews and is nominated for a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut. It's unusual for a mixed-genre film to be praised so heartily. Attack The Block is a clever and succinct blend of influences, including Alien, Goonies, Predator, and The Wire. It's produced by the team that made the great horror-comedy, Shaun of the Dead, so there are throw-away funny bits throughout the action-horror. And, most intriguingly, it's the film that asks the relevant question: who's is more terrifying--alien monsters with glowing fangs who will eat your head, or the drug dealer on the 19th floor with a gun, defending his turf?

On Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night (a fireworks melee), a group of teenage boys, led with quiet charisma by Moses (John Boyega) are on their way to becoming genuine gangsters, mugging passerby, Sam, (Jodie Whittaker). Their escape by bicycle is interrupted when a glowing object smashes down onto a car nearby. Upon investigation, Moses, who hopes to ransack the crushed vehicle, is attached by something gruesome that tears off into the night. Moses decides that won't stand and the gang follows the creature to finish what was started.

From that point on--there is action--much action, involving fireworks, sirens, smoke, screaming, frantic running, homemade weaponry consisting of baseball bats and kitchen knives, that scary drug dealer guy with his sociopathic stare, and some really large, fast-moving aliens who cannot be reasoned with.

I confess I'm not a big watcher of modern monster films. The effects are so gruesome at this point, that it's too much like having a real nightmare. I was initially afraid that would be the case with this film--all kinds of gore and calculated jump cuts, but I commend Cornish for his lighter touch. There is just enough blood-letting to alter the emotional trajectory of our main characters, from street toughs, defending their block, to frightened youngsters, attempting to survive. And the alien invasion, on par with the menacing drug trade within their home, is a clever conceit. It's a turf war of galactic proportions.

Extremely unlikely heroes
Balancing out the mayhem is Ron (Nick Frost), an extremely laid-back worker-bee in the "weed room" upstairs, and rich-kid pothead, Brewis (Luke Treadaway)--adding stoner humor and startled reaction shots to the growing menace around them. So include Pineapple Express to the influences list above.

As the kids band together to protect first their block, then their building, and then their lives, they start to transcend their archetypes (stony silent leader, mouthy pest, angry guy, the one that wears glasses) and we see that there are no adults in their lives to help them out--certainly no one they think to call upon for help. And definitely not the police, since the kids are running from the police as much as from the aliens. Potential allies include a group of girls living in the building, two wannabe gangster kids with a squirt gun, and someone you wouldn't expect to join them, but who does, believably, due to thoughtful dialogue and circumstance. It's all a ripping good yarn.

Stoners join in as only stoners can
The cast is great. The kids have thick accents and use a lot of slang. But if you're renting the movie and get lost in the dialogue, just turn on the English subtitles. You may find yourself calling your friends "cuz" and "fam" afterward. Enjoy! They're all really photogenic kids and act so well together--I believed they were childhood friends, going in their wrong direction in a crud environment. As with much science fiction, I have quibbles with some of the plot. Where are all the adults during this explosive violence? Are they that inured to neighborhood violence? Can one police officer notice the alien body count alongside the human one? That's taking incompetence to a new level.

The Block becomes a fantastical place in this story

The effects are low-budget but clever and good fun. The suspense before monster jump cuts ratio was good, so I didn't feel too manipulated with terror--just hopeful that things would turn out all right somehow. A real respect for setting is obvious. The Block is a concrete and cold jungle with dark corners, deserted walkways, harshly lit empty hallways, peepholes, multiple locks, burglar gates--this is their home. It's bleak for children to grow up in, but it's also perfect for defending a monster attack. Cornish's majority-use of animatronic creatures over CGI adds a lot of weight to each scene with his actors. The young cast looks genuinely disturbed and increasingly frightened. It really humanizes them throughout the dark fairytale-quality of the story.

If you're searching for a rollicking fantasy/reality adventure--check this out.

Who would like this film:
-My brother--definitely, with the subtitles on.
-Your cool, adventurous friends, some of whom have been to England, others who have always wanted to go and so watch a lot of British comedy and films.
-Teenagers of many different backgrounds and classes.
-Your roommate with all the vintage filmmaking equipment and sci-fi paraphernalia in his tiny bedroom.
-Shaun of the Dead fans.

Who wouldn't like this film:
-Probably people who read a lot of Jane Austen and watch "Masterpiece Theatre," although that describes me, so there are always exceptions.

1 comment:

M.Y.M.H.M. said...

We thought it was pretty great too ;-)