Movie Review: Attack the Block (UK, 2011)

It’s Guy Fawkes Night in South London, and a young woman (Jodie Whittaker) is walking home from work. As she approaches her home in a public housing complex, a gang of teenaged thugs surround and proceed to mug her. Before they can complete their task, something crashes down into a parked car at the side of the street. Moses (John Boyega), the gang’s leader, goes to investigate, and is slashed in the face for his trouble. This assault cannot go unpunished, so their mugging victim forgotten, the gang tracks down the wild animal responsible.

The thing is tracked down to a shed in a playground, and is quickly beaten to death. Moses carries the body back home as a trophy, but it takes him and the rest of the gang a while to realize that the thing is no earthly creature. And when a number of flaming objects start landing in the neighborhood in the same way that their victim arrived, they are in for a whole heck of a lot of trouble….

A lot of critics describe Attack the Block as a “comedy”, due to writer-director Joe Cornish having been a comedian for several years, and having worked with Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) and Nick Frost (who also appears in the movie as the stoner Ron). Well, while it isn’t as ominous and dark as it could be, I wouldn’t call it a “comedy”. It’s also described as a social satire, seeing how its main characters are inner city, underprivileged children. Again, aside from a few brief bits of dialogue, the social commentary isn’t really there. The gang members all seem to come from decent families who appear to be reasonably well-off. None of them are living in squalor, and only Moses comes from what could be called a “broken” home. One gets the idea that they’ve formed a gang simply in order to have something interesting to do.

What you do have is a quick-paced sci-fi action film, and a pretty good one at that. Credit must be given to the entire creature design team. The aliens, aptly described as “gorilla wolves”, are very well done. Spiky fur that’s so black it doesn’t reflect any light at all. And those electric blue teeth…. The building complex itself, Wyndham Tower, is practically a character on its own. Weird ramps around it that don’t seem to really go anywhere. Narrow, badly lit hallways. Slow and cramped elevators. Fill a hallway with smoke, and it becomes pants-wettingly scary. Especially when those gorilla-wolves are stalking you…. A tip of the hat, too, to Cornish for getting fine performances out of teenaged actors, and those actors (especially Boyega) for turning in fine performances.

Moses winds up being the “hero” thanks to his facing off against the creatures. John Boyega does a very good job with the character as he walks the fine line between hero and anti-hero. He is a gang leader who commits several minor crimes in addition to the mugging over the course of the movie, but you do root for him as he takes on the aliens.

Personally, I can’t root for him that much. There’s no evidence that the alien “invasion” is happening anywhere other than in his neighborhood. Only one reason is even suggested as to why the aliens are here, and it’s not that they want to take over the world. The aliens never seem to go after anyone other than the gang members and their associates, even when they have plenty of opportunity to leave the hunt. Their motive looks to be nothing more than getting revenge on Moses for having killed one of them.

What you’ve got with Attack the Block is a sci-fi action film about a gang war, where one of the gangs happens to be a bunch of aliens. Not the usual alien invasion…. It’s well worth checking out.

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