Sunday, 15 May 2011

ATTACK THE BLOCK review

Now in cinemas is Joe Cornish's debut film, placing a bunch of street kids in the middle of an alien invasion. Watch the trailer and read my review, next...





When young nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) gets mugged on her way home by Moses (John Boyega) and his gang, she doesn't think her night could get any worse... that is until an alien creature crash lands next to her, sending her and her attackers into a battle for life and death. As more of the creatures start to land in their estate, Sam, Moses and the boys must unite against their common enemy and protect their homes and their lives. Tooled up and ready for war, Moses and his gang will do anything to stop this alien invasion from taking over the block.

The latest in a series of well executed genre flicks from first time UK based directors, Attack the Block is the debut feature film of one Mr Joe Cornish (aka the Joe part of Adam and Joe). As well as creating the highly influential Adam and Joe Show for Channel Four, they've both gone on to become respected radio hosts, actors and screenwriters in various capacities. Here, Joe has to deal with the weight of a tremendous amount of anticipation and deliver something that will keep the fans and fams happy.


Starring a cast of complete unknowns (most of whom had no acting backgrounds), Joe Cornish has really taken a gamble on making the leads look and act like the sort of kids you'd cross the road to avoid. It's a move that pays off, and Attack The Block doesn't shy away from making its main characters out to be slightly nasty kids, though not one note hoodlums. They remain unapologetic towards their mugging victim, and are more bothered by the fact that she's from their block than a young female nurse. Thankfully Joe Cornish didn't compromise his characters by giving them some hokey 'Grange Hill' backstory. Moses and co. didn't steal Sam's belongings to pay for anyone's medicine, they stole for themselves.


Even though they are little bastards at times, you do start to fear for their safety when their lives are put in danger. Of the youths, Pest has to be my favourite. Cocky, forthright and with a voice that's not as deep as he thinks it is, he gets the situation right when he states "gangs, drugs and violence in video games got nuttin' to do with it". Owing a debt to the John Carpenter films we all wished he still made, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing are obvious influences on the story. There's also a touch of the Xenomorphs around, with Moses' desire to protect the block the equal of Sigourney Weaver and the Nostromo in Alien.

Speaking of, they say a creature film can only be as good as its effects, and when you're dealing with a low budget British film that's often the place where we fall down. Designed in part by the folks at Double Negative (the same people who put patio furniture into zombies in Shaun of the Dead), at first I was a little unsure about the blacker than night creature design, but honestly, the more I saw of the aliens the more I liked them. Not just happy to run around snarling those fluorescent teeth, there's moments where they creep up from the shadows and provide some great tension. They're original and unpredictable monsters.


The cast is a strong ensemble, but as always there's some stand outs. John Boyega does some great work as the lead thug Moses, always an imposing presence and a believable makeshift hero. As the foppish Brewis (straight from the Oxford educated drug lair of Lock, Stock), Luke Treadaway also stands out from the crowd for me, namely because he acts the way I probably would in such a situation; run, look scared, get hurt, then reluctantly seek help from the local gang. It's the kind of class defying dynamic you'd expect to see in a siege drama, with or without aliens.


Unfortunately Nick Frost's character is a bit superfluous, and could quite easily be lifted out of the movie with no ill effect. His drug dealer/sage character is not poorly acted or annoying, but just isn't really a necessary component to the action. Still, Frost is the biggest name involved in the film (produced by Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead's backers Big Talk), so any extra coverage the film receives from his involvement can only be a good thing. He does also get to deliver my favourite line in the film, when from his crows nest vantage point of the surrounding area he sadly notices that "Blockbuster shut down".


As for the much debated about dialogue and Sarf Lahndan accents, they didn't bother me in the slightest. As a man who's (sadly) notably older than these kids and from a different part of the country, it's to be expected that their lexicon is alien to me. It's no different to watching Juno for the first time and having to process the dialogue that little bit faster, and it didn't detract from the viewing experience at all. If anything, it's given me some new lingo to spout to the kids on the street (joke).


Topped with a thumping Basement Jaxx soundtrack, Mr Cornish can breath a sigh of relief as Attack the Block delivers what was hoped of him. Helped by giving it a pace that doesn't let up, Attack the Block is a great example of the siege drama, made all the more interesting and unique thanks to its talented cast and iconic setting.


Verdict

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