SXSW FILM FESTIVAL
SXSW Review: Joe Cornish's 'Attack the Block' is Exciting, Fun, Deep
by Jeremy Kirk
March 16, 2011
Believe. Joe Cornish's feature debut as writer and director, the sci-fi flick Attack the Block, is a riot, an alien creatures vs South London gang feature film that revs up with excitement, grounds with realistic characters, eases the tone with a bit of well-placed comedy, and still never loses sight of its subtext. With a highly inventive yet understandable screenplay, the kind that makes you think "I can't believe they've never done this before", backing it along the way, the film plays to both the '50s-style monster movies and inner city dramas alike. But it's also a whole lot of fun, quite possibly the most fun this year's SXSW has to offer.
At the center of the film is a group of young hoodies who live in a London tower block. Late one night they accost Sam, played by Jodie Whittaker, on her way home but are distracted when a strange object falls from the sky. Investigating what this strange object is, the gang is attacked by a creature from space. Soon after more creatures fall from space, and the gang quickly decide they aren't going to let the ETs with gnashing teeth take over their territory.
Firstly, Cornish's film will work brilliantly for fans of the genre. The familiar B-horror meets dub step tones of the score from Basement Jaxx, the brewing intensity as the creatures begin to lay siege to the tower, and the incredible and mostly practical visuals from the effects team all unify to a solid work of exciting science fiction. Nick Frost pops up in a small part as a marijuana dealer in the building, and while he's such a small part - probably the main selling point when the film finally does near a wide release - he brings some of the film's more notable and memorable moments of comedy. There's even a bit of Carpenter thrown in for good Assault on Precinct 13 measure.
But more than just a fun alien movie, Attack the Block wears its subtext proudly. As the aliens land and the gang begins defending their building, the police continue to search for Sam's attackers, not understanding they are now her defenders, the enemy of my enemy is my friend sentiment working overtime. The children here, and they are children, are forced to stand up for something much greater than themselves even if those actions coincide with them defending this world they have built up around themselves.
The kids Cornish uses to play the hoodies are just that. Kids. Yet the power from each of their performances, John Boyega's Moses leading both the gang and acting prowess, is undeniable. When he speaks, others listen, and you know exactly why. It's a grown man's stone-strong authority projected from the voice and looks of a young man, and it's completely genuine coming form Boyega.
That voice, by the way, may be where Attack the Block loses some American audiences. Accents are thick, and the language the gang has created for itself may not be the most coherent to understand fully. It's not necessary. Knowing the general idea, understanding the situation and what has to and is about to happen is perception enough. If anything, not fully understanding every utterance from every character in Attack the Block only calls for a repeat viewing of the film not unlike the Coens' True Grit, and that's anything but a bad thing when dealing with something this entertaining.
The less spoken about Attack the Block's creature design the better, but know that it is part of the film's excellence as well. Simple yet effective, the creatures here are such that you never fully know what is 100% practical and what is aided by computer effects. The result is a monster both satisfying in concept and absolutely convincing in execution, something not even mainstream, mega-budgeted monster movies can confidently claim.
A mesh of all of these moving parts is likely to have one or two at the very least not working up to par with the rest, but Attack the Block works in every aspect it has to offer. A monster movie, a British gang movie, a stoner comedy, even a statement on inner city youths and their struggle for acceptance, the film resonates with decisive power while still holding every ounce of your attention in its enjoyable grasp. Joe Cornish is sure to be a name we will hear from time and time again. If this is what he has to offer for his first feature, one that even made on a relatively low budget, imagine what excitement he has to offer in projects to come.
Jeremy's SXSW Rating: 8.5 out of 10