This film seems to be known as ‘that movie with John Boyega before Star Wars’, but it deserves a lot more credit than that.
Attack the Block (2011) is a British sci-fi comedy horror directed and written by Joe Cornish. It stars John Boyega as Moses, the head of a teen gang in the South London, who discovers and must stop an alien invasion in the form of gorilla-like creatures emerging from a mysterious meteor shower.
As stories go, this is basically your typical small-scale invasion plot. Nothing ground-breaking, but no serious concerns to write home about. The most distinctive element of the film is the setting – the entire film is centralised on a single apartment block (which is colloquially dubbed as ‘the block’ because maybe they’re all secretly Aussies?) and the movie is constantly saturated in south London accents, culture and imagery. So while the basic plot may simply be acceptable, Cornish has given the movie a garnish (I’m very proud of that one) of unique and rich culture to make it feel more distinct than it actually is. An admirable feat.
The most standout part of Block however is its slick sense of pace and action. The film blasts along like an out-of-control firework, hastily zinging from one action scene to another with brief moments of levity in between. And the action is solid. Visceral, well-shot and just stylish enough to be distinct without going Matrix-level, Cornish has the workings of a real pro. Which is amazing considering this is his theatrical debut. These action scenes are also boosted by a seriously cool alien design. The aliens basically consist of a pure black mesh of flesh and fur, with a deep throat of glowing white teeth – both relatively original and very threatening. It captures their menace, animal nature, and alien origins concisely and is one of the most defining images of the film.
The characters however is when the movie dips back into average territory. While the two key cast members of Moses (John Boyega) and Sam (Jodie Whittaker) both deliver solid performances and even get in some welcome character development, the rest of the cast is typically sidelined as cliché rebellious teens or (even worse) red shirts. Simply put, much of the supporting characters are not distinct enough, or is never given a reason for the audience to sympathise with. Halfway through the film I began to actually forget who was who, and if I don’t know what character I’m rooting for, how can I really care? To be fair, several key moments and quips create the occasional burst of characterisation, but not enough to save an overall disappointing supporting cast.
While Cornish may still need a bit of assistance on the writing front, his direction and style is enough to propel Attack the Block to a reasonably entertaining level. Watch it just for the action and style, and you’ve got a solid theatrical debut from a promising director.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Recommended
Cultists: Highly Recommended