The debut feature from Joe Cornish caught a lot of cinema goers by surprise, including yours truly. Perhaps due to its marketing or maybe just Cornish’s comedy background, I went into Attack the Block expecting a horror comedy set amidst a high-concept movie in which Aliens invade inner city London, but after the first viewing I felt a little deflated. The film has comedic moments but isn’t a comedy and it has bloody moments but isn’t a horror. All in all, the film just seemed to fall a little bit short, perhaps due to the weight of my own expectation. On second viewing however, now knowing what to expect and focusing more on the concept rather than trying to pigeon-hole its genre, I definitely enjoyed the film a lot more.
As most of us are aware by now, the film focuses on a gang of hooded youths: Pest, Dennis, Jerome, Biggz and leader Moses. The gang’s mugging of a local nurse, Sam, is interrupted by a creature from outer space crash landing on a nearby car. Moses hunts down the creature and summarily kills it. Soon after decamping to local drug dealer Ron’s (Nick Frost) flat, the gang see a whole raft of the creatures plummeting to earth from his window. However, these creatures are far larger and deadlier than the original they so easily dispatched with and the boys are soon on the run from the gorilla sized invaders. The young heroes must dodge the aliens and return to the relative safety of ‘the block’ and, once there, they begin to realise that the beasties are not hunting indiscriminately but may specifically be after them.
The plot is a simple but effective one and the sub-90 minute run time feels just right as the story never feels anything but tight. Cornish clearly has a natural gift for direction and scenes such as Moses’ climatic charge out of Ron’s apartment and down to his own with the aliens hot on his trail are shot brilliantly. He also draws great performances from most of his cast with the brooding Moses and middle-class stoner Brewis particularly standing out. The creatures themselves are unique inventions too and their dark shadow-like appearance punctuated only by glowing green teeth certainly gives them a menacing air.
That being said, I still found the film a touch bland in parts and I didn’t really feel as gripped as I should have in such a short and fast-paced movie. Scenes such as the slow creep down a smoke filled corridor weren’t especially tense and I kept expecting it to cause a few more jumps and scares. Certain characters still grated a little (Pest and Hi-Hatz mainly for me) and the film’s attempts to address the root causes of inner city London’s problems by looking at the homelives of young teenagers seem a little undercooked. Overall though, it is a solid and enjoyable creature feature which definitely benefits from repeat viewing. Seen not as the brit-horror-comedy it was marketed as (the Shaun of the Dead comparisons were especially misleading), but as a stand alone concept film akin to the likes of Escape from New York or Assault on Precinct 13 relocated to deepest Southest London, Attack the Block could well become a cult classic in its own right in the years to come.
The DVD release comes with an array of extras such as a ‘meet the cast’ featurette and a ‘creature feature’ on the development of the film’s beasties. But the two stand out additions are a behind-the-scenes doc that includes the young cast’s audition tapes and three audio commentaries. These see Joe Cornish team first with the young gang, second with the ‘senior’ cast members and thirdly with Exec Producer Edgar Wright. Cornish is an instantly likeable chap and he is both witty and informative throughout.
Attack the Block is out on DVD and blu-ray 19th September. If you liked the film at the Cineplex, it’s a great addition to the collection. If you weren’t convinced at the Cineplex, it may just win you around on second viewing.
Director: Joe Cornish
Stars: Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway
Runtime: 88 min