Movie Review: Attack the Block (R)

Attack-the-Block-Movie-PosterKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: R

Appropriate for ages 15 and up. The alien creatures are menacing and scary, not to mention messy eaters who like their human meals rare and bloody. There’s ample swearing and some disrespectful talk about women. Guns and knives are wielded in planetary defense and gang-related crime; the film doesn’t exactly exhaust itself trying to condemn the latter. Marijuana is a major part of the, shall we say, “atmosphere” of the movie, also unapologetically. All that said, there’s not much here that the average teen hasn’t seen strewn across cable TV.

Rudeboys and Aliens

A Brixton laugh riot breaks out in this sci-fi showdown in the dreary ‘hoods of London

By Jared Peterson

Attack the Block is the latest in a series of genre-out-of-water comedies that includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This time out, the subject/target/honoree is the alien invasion flick, and the result is some bloody good fun.

Amid the firework-lit rambunctiousness of the Guy Fawkes Day celebration, an alien fireball smashes to Earth in the middle of Brixton, a working-class neighborhood in South London. The menacing, otherworldly passenger that emerges barely gets a snarl in edgewise before it is chased down and pummeled to death by a gang of teenaged hoodlums. The boys tote the thing around for a while, showing it off to friends and inadvertently spreading its pheromone-laced blood around the neighborhood. When more space invaders arrive—feral, eyeless gorilla-like creatures with glowing blue fangs—they stalk and attack anything that’s come in contact with the goo. And so, unbeknownst to the rest of the neighborhood, let alone the world, a battle of the planets rages through the sad, dingy confines of a working-class apartment complex—the “block” of the title.

The rest is sci-fi boilerplate (not an insult—remember, that’s the point). Uneasy alliances are formed—between the gang’s scowling leader Moses (John Boyega) and Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a pretty neighbor they happened to mug earlier that night—and unlikely heroes emerge. There is ample comic relief—from the likes of Brewis (Luke Treadaway), a suburban stoner on an ill-fated drug run, Ron (Shaun of the Dead alum Nick Frost), his slack-jawed dealer, and a brilliantly mouthy gang geek called Pest (Alex Esmail). Through it all, faceless, merciless aliens pick off unlucky souls in gory glee.

Sci-fi thrillers usually generate at least some laughter, whether from scoffing sourpusses who question the plausibility of visitors from beyond or willing suspenders of disbelief who just need to burn off some of the tension of the chase. Like Shaun of the Dead, Attack the Block succeeds in part because it lets the laughter—nervous, derisive or otherwise—off the leash. The key to these genre mash-up movies seems to be to play it straight and let the truths of the conflicting styles speak for themselves. Writer/director Joe Cornish doesn’t skimp on or shy away from the terror and gore, but he also stays true to the raw and wry urban attitude of his heroes.

While you may have never been to South London, you may find the film’s characters and environs familiar, thanks to two very different sources. One is Shakespeare. (Thou heardst me.) Like some of the Bard’s best characters, these blokes in the ‘hood are low-class, lowbrow and quick-witted, and their slangy speech, though it takes some getting used to, is spectacularly inventive and a fun code to crack. The other source is, well, yesterday’s news—some of the rioting and civil unrest we’ve seen abroad recently took place in Brixton and other neighborhoods like it. Attack the Block shows the area’s denizens to be underprivileged, downtrodden and deeply aware of difference. Moses even spouts a conspiracy theory about the aliens being an instrument of the police, sent in to thin the ranks of the supposedly despised Afro-Caribbean minority—a preposterous notion that reveals a very real divide.

Social messages far aside, fans of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and (heaven help us) Paul will love Attack the Block—as will anyone, I suspect, who let themselves have a nervous chuckle at one Pvt. Hudson, Bill Paxton’s character in Aliens, as he whimpered and wise cracked all the way to his doom.

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