Underrated Gems: ‘Attack the Block’
With Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s phenomenally brilliant “Cornetto Trilogy” coming to a close in theaters on Friday, I found myself reliving their previous efforts in a week long marathon. This ranged from the obvious inclusions of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Spaced , to the not so obvious connections referenced by Edgar Wright a couple of weeks ago as inspiration for his trilogy. While most of the deserved praise for Wright, Pegg, and Frost have focused on those three fantastic installments, I found myself wondering how a reserved little gem that Edgar Wright produced keeps slipping through the cracks. Now this movie of course has its fan base, developing a sort of mini cult hit over the years, but I hardly see it popping up in the conversation of best horror comedy crossovers with the Cornetto Trilogy, especially when it stars Nick Frost and was written and directed by Wright’s close friend Joe Cornish. I’m talking of course about the alien-invasion-teen-horror-comedy Attack the Block , which is to the misfit adventures genre what Shaun of the Dead is to romantic comedy crossovers. (Well…not really). Much to my surprise this flick hasn’t been seen by some of my closest film fanatics and with my recent plunge into Wright’s movies, I felt it proper to thrust it back into the spotlight during the release week of The World’s End.
Originally I had no idea what to think about Attack the Block before I finally popped it into my blu-ray player and gave the full movie a watch. It looked like a fun mish-mash of different beloved genres, with an influence from the glorious creators of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, which was how it was heavily advertised. Now it does adapt most of those crossover elements that worked so well in those movies, but it still makes it original enough where it can stand on it’s own two feet in the genre. It flies by with a brisk pace that moves our characters through each scene in pretty unpredictable fashion. Unlike most movies with man-eating beasts, I had no idea who would be safe and who would perish in a gruesomely frightening death. It was this sense of the unknown that made for a memorable experience, and I was pretty damn engrossed trying to figure out what would happen next.
In the end this was everything I could have imagined an alien invasion movie to be from the perspective of a bunch of wise cracking teenagers in the ass crack of South London. The premise is astonishingly simple: A group of hardened inner-city kids try to fend off their block from an attack by extraterrestrials. Their basic motivation is that they have to stand up for their home and defend themselves when nobody else will even give them the time of day. You have elements of “The Boy who Cried Wolf” in the way these kids are constantly tricking others to steal and bribe, before they come face to face with a threat they actually need help with. At first I thought it’d be impossible to relate to any of these characters but as the film moves forward, their identities are fleshed out and we become attached to even the most obnoxious of the group. We see little glimpses of how they became the wise-ass street thugs that they are today and more than half of them become relatable as the story unfolds. There’s even a mention of someone in the movie who goes off to help children in Africa instead of the ones who need it in South London. Consequently, this mirrors the kids’ feelings of abandonment and disrespect. As the layers of each of the anti-heroes are peeled back one by one, the movie gets even more intense as you start rooting for their survival instead of full-fledged alien battles. These guys actually grow and mature as the movie progresses and it’s slipped in so seamlessly without being heavy handed. The approach works wonders.
The aliens themselves have a fantastic creature design that’s interesting and frightening at the same time. The glowing mouths covered in “the blackest black I’ve ever seen” was a smart composition that made for some really great shots of the aliens surrounded by darkness. They move like what you would imagine a gorilla-wolf hybrid to move like, and it’s what they’re often described as in the movie. Their attacks are quick and brutally violent, and once the action starts it never lets up. The location selected was an inspired setting for an alien attack movie, with high angled apartment floors and a maze of wheelchair entrance ramps that become a virtual bobsled course for alien chases. Things like the firecracker smoke that fills the apartment corridors towards the final stages of the confrontation make for a creepy and memorable atmosphere . Everything looks really sleek and was shot with a wide-angle so we could see 100% of the madness that unfolds rather then the usual shaky cam efforts. This was a nice small-scale focus of an alien attack in a genre that continuously throws the same worldwide destruction at its audience over and over again.
I thought Attack the Block was a blast of Sci-Fi comedy that managed to mix enough of it’s comedic elements to make me laugh and it’s dramatic elements to make me really care for the characters involved. It was a breath of fresh air and will surely please those who enjoy The Cornetto Trilogy, as well as anyone looking for a nice little crossover attempt. If nothing else, this is basically a pitch-perfect representation of how I would’ve handled an alien invasion as a teenager with my buddies. You can take that for what it’s worth. 9/10, Highly Recommended.