Go see this film.
For a film featuring a parade of debutants – the main actors are all feature film novices, as is the director Joe Cornish – this is an assured performance indeed. Assured in the craft with which it has been put together, and assured in the confidence it has in its own identity as a piece of real south London life (despite principally concerning and invasion of blind, luminous-toothed alien gorillas!) I say “south London” because this unendingly fascinating city is like anyone else’s country, and Attack the Block captures the badlands south of the river the same way as Nick Frost and Simon Pegg’s Crouch End zombie movie Shaun of the Dead captures the north. They’re very different places.
For my money (and notwithstanding I live around the corner from the Crouch End high street) Attack the Block is by far the superior film. In any case, it makes no compromises for American audiences: for this to have a show in the US it will need subtitles. Perhaps they could release it as an Art-House movie and call it a foreign language.
Every facet is skilfully crafted. Cornish’s direction is witty and imaginative but most of all exquisitely paced: whenever things promise to get out of control (and when your subject is alien invasion, invariably they must) Cornish pulls everything back from the brink and re-injects some banter to calm things down and re-prime. The banter is all delivered in that odd Brixton patois that will be completely unintelligible to people who are over 25 or hail from outside the M25. The cinematography and camera work is neat, too: clever use of aerial shots and well handled chase scenes lead into superbly old fashioned approach to special effects: rather than flaunt the saccharine wonders of CGI, Cornish reduces his aliens to black balls of fur (like, so black you can’t even see them – a touch Douglas Adams would be proud of) with luminous teeth. As directors used to do, Cornish and prefers lighting, cutting, music and the viewer’s own inference over Pentium Processors to generate suspense. As a consequence, there is plenty.
Steven Price’s score is impressive, is used with wit and verve, and Basement Jaxx (also feature film debutants) contribute a superb pulsing soundtrack.
Joe Cornish’s screenplay is similarly assured. I did think he’d painted himself into a corner: once the luminous-toothed gorillas had arrived en masse there was no obvious resolution other than Braindead-style mayhem with a lawnmower, but Cornish expertly pulled in a seemingly incidental sequence early in the film to set the film on its path to resolution. No lawnmowers required.
But most impressive is the acting: the ensemble case of amateur kids is flat out brilliant and each times his lines to the nanosecond. The professionals complement them without ever grandstanding (Nick Frost is admirably restrained in a supporting role) and Luke Treadaway, dealing with a peach of a role as a try-hard posh kid buying his weed from the estate in his dad’s Volvo, nails his role. Treadaway’s expressions, pacing and delivery are worth the price of admission alone. Or would be, were the price of admission not already fully covered by the performance of John Boyega as Moses. Boy has this young fellow got Charisma to burn: If Boyega sticks at it, he is destined for big things: a smouldering, brooding, enigmatic presence: you read it here first.
Lastly, Attack the Block respectfully tips its hat without ever being derivative. The block is called Wyndham House. Cornish cites the influence of 1980s “alien” movies like E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial. It has had some effect: the kids trawl round the estate on their bikes like a sort of dark inversion of Elliot’s pals. They mug people, sell drugs, and when they discover an alien they don’t befriend it: they kick its head in.
An all-round treat, therefore: by turns Attack the Block will have you laughing, wincing, on the edge of your seat, and jumping three feet out of it: the shocks are doozies, in a knowing sort of way: you know you’re about to get a fright (in that unlucky-Alf-casually-meandering-up-to-an-open-manhole sort of a way) but when it comes, as you know it will, it jazzes you all the same.
I loved this film. In an oasis of formulaic, cheap-shot lazy drama, this is a thoroughly welcome return to honest, old fashioned film craft, with no particular compromises in the name of commercial success.
Go see this film.
Attack The Block is out in cinemas 13th May 2011.
Director: Joe Cornish
Stars: Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway
Runtime: 88 min