Some of you may not have heard of the newest Brit import Attack the Block, but I suspect that will soon change once it invades movie theaters this weekend in limited release. Funny, profane, bloody, scary, and, most of all, fun, Attack the Block is a blast to watch. It’s the kind of movie best viewed in a packed theater on a Friday night. Though it doesn’t disguise its rather obvious influences (shades of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, Gremlins, and Shaun of the Dead permeate the movie), writer-director Joe Cornish manages to keep things fresh, surprising, and original at all times.
This is a hell of a debut film for Cornish, and he’s practically written his ticket in Hollywood with Attack the Block. Even more impressive, he’s delivered a movie low on budget and short on stars (Nick Frost is probably the only recognizable face in the cast), but the quality of the material rips through those limitations. I imagine most moviegoers who see Attack the Block early on will take a possessory interest in its success, almost as if they had discovered it first themselves. That kind of passion is what drives word-of-mouth.
The concept is almost laughably simple. Inner city London teens find their ghetto block threatened by an army of aliens – or as a couple of the characters describe them, “gorilla, wolf-looking motherfuckers” – after the kids’ leader, Moses (John Boyega, impressively focused and captivating in his first feature), kills one of them. E.T., these things are certainly not. The aliens have radioactive-bright neon teeth, ink-black fur and blood, and they’re on a mission to kill. The special effects that bring them to life are modest, but effective. The soundtrack of pulsing electronic beats courtesy of composers Steven Price, Felix Buxton, and Simon Ratcliffe adds a super-charge to already exciting sequences.
One of the great pleasures of the movie is its R-rating, which is well-earned. These kids have huge potty-mouths, and if you can make it through their thick British accents, most of what they say is pretty damn funny. They’re also big potheads, which allows for a bunch of weed jokes – something that Cornish uses frequently to relieve tension in the middle of some fairly nerve-wracking scenes of terror. The lack of adults on screen is also refreshing. Once the the alien invasion ramps up, these kids are on their own. Fans of The Goonies will embrace the idea of kids rallying together to beat down an external force trying to destroy them.
As far as clever genre mash-ups go, Attack the Block is hard to beat. The kids are a hoot. It works as comedy, horror, sci-fi, and adventure. And to dismiss it as mere lightweight nonsense or just a “midnight movie” is to ignore some of the finer social critiques that Cornish weaves into the story. One of the best you’ll see this year.