Plot: A gang of under-appreciated teens hold up in a council estate in London, fighting off hordes of strange alien-like creatures in order to protect fellow residents.
Thoughts: Since the late 1980’s, British cinema has drifted in and out of mainstream success, most notably (and most recently) the groundbreaking accomplishment of Edgar Wright’s ‘Shaun of the Dead’. It’s well toned blend of British humour and clever parody noted it as an audience favourite on both sides of the atlantic, planting it’s stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost firmly in the limelight. All eyes then turned to the talented threesome of Wright, Pegg and Frost as they set up part 2 of the now aptly named “Blood and Ice-Cream Trilogy”, a buddy cop-comedy entitled ‘Hot Fuzz’. Another runaway hit, the 3 are yet to come out with the third and with Hollywood knocking who knows what will happen. In the meantime though, Team Shaun have been behind several new projects, the first being this very film, ‘Attack the Block’, directed by Wright’s writing partner and star of BBC Radio, Joe Cornish and featuring Nick Frost himself; Cornish’s ambitious debut has been surrounded with plenty of hype following the 2011 SXSW festival with many hailing it as the new ‘Shaun of the Dead’. But are they right to jump to such vivid conclusions?
As the cinematic debut of a lowly British radio-host, ‘Attack the Block’ appears on paper, to be the most ambitious yet. Featuring large and violently creepy alien breeds, an inexperienced inner-city cast and an entirely new “street” language, Cornish certainly had his work set out for him and with a budget of roughly £8 million, he did startlingly well. Although heavily British in its setting and characters, the film looks no different to any other Hollywood blockbuster, the tone replicating that of a much higher-budgeted picture perfectly, allowing maximum enjoyment from such basic effects. Cornish’s simplistic touch to both the scripting and the pace of the film work beautifully, never slowing down to explain the origins of the increasingly menacing and uniquely dark alien creatures. It is through this that Cornish builds the biggest and most vital bridge of all, a link between the audience and the central characters, the “youth” gang.
By beginning his feature with the fragrantly intimidating group mugging an innocent woman, Cornish doesn’t make it easy to immediately love his subjects, but by putting us directly in their shoes throughout the entire ordeal, from first landing to the final fight, we build a close and almost personal bond with these troublesome boys and begin to see them as real human beings, not hooded cloaks of death as the British media would have you believe. By doing this, connecting his audience with his cast, Cornish makes the entire picture a lot deeper than any of us ever expected it to be; you begin to care for these boys, you invest your energy in hoping for their survival.
Having said this, the pace of the movie moves so quickly and brutally, with Cornish desperate to tell his tale in less than 90 minutes, that when certain “homies” are strategically picked off, we have no time to dwell on their lost souls, and the boys have very little or no time at all to grieve their dead friends. Partner this with the under-use of some of the film’s best talent (most notably Nick Frost) and we have ourselves a huge gaping hole of opportunity left shamefully blank.
As far as inexperienced casts go, this is easily one of the best however, the majority of the leads finding their place amongst the group quickly and surely with only a few stragglers not towing the line as well as they could. John Boyega adds terrific layers to his mysterious Moses, the gang’s silent leader, Alex Esmail peppers the creeping terror with well-time humour and Jodie Whittaker is fantastic as the believably concerned young nurse who seeks security in her previous muggers. Despite certain unmentionables drifting a little too close to home with some rather unhinged performances, the casting is to be highly praised, the true spirit of the film captured within the believability of the cast.
Certainly far from being the new ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Attack the Block’ is a fresh and considerate take on the Brit-buster. Evenly paced, mostly well acted and with some smart and sassy dialogue along the way, as a piece of entertaining science fiction, ‘Attack the Block’ passes with flying colours. Just don’t expect for it to remain etched in your memory for long, the rather abrupt conclusion stealing away the dying seconds. Expect no brilliance, just good fun, Cornish’s energetically contemporary debut is a sure fire hit amongst the teenager generation this side of the pond, but large chunks will surely be lost in translation.
The best it is not, but ‘Attack the Block’ still manages to be fun and frothy without dwelling too much on unimportant aspects of its genesis. Think of it as a polite reminder of the kindness of the human condition, through the medium of alien invasion.