Attack the Block

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Attack the Block
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Attack the Block
Comedy, Horror, Science Fiction
Film 4, Studio Canal
May 13th, 2011
Release length: 1:28:00
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For quite a while, I noticed Attack the Block sitting in the local Red Box kiosks. It’s rather cheesy cover box artwork screamed a hilarious b-movie Science Fiction film, but overall never got around to picking it up. However, after seeing it creep up on some best of 2011 lists lately, including some of the film critics I pay close attention to due to similar tastes, I invested in a rental to see just what it was that I had been missing out on. Many surprises lie in wait for anyone bold enough to give this alien invasion flick a quick spin, but are they pleasant surprises, or was this movie really just a laugh out loud low budget movie?

On the contrary to the latter actually. It appears that Attack the Block was filmed as a major release movie with an estimated budget of nearly thirteen million dollars. Given the look and talent in this movie, it definitely shows. First of all, this film looks great. It has a great shot on film look to it that has a high definition feel to it, even with a standard DVD pressing. The whole atmosphere of the flick feels dark from the start, but you can’t help to feel the science fiction impact early on, not including the first alien that comes down from the sky. The block, which seems to be a low income gated community, is as nice as it could be for that part of town in this film, giving a sense of isolation and loneliness. Thanks to the entire thing happening through the course of one night, these atmospheres only seem to get darker, and sleeker when moving inside, even though those stylish elements are simply modern things coming into play.

The film starts out a bit slow, but really helps to establish the atmosphere, as well as the main characters. A group of teens from the Block mug a woman walking through their area, a nurse named Sam (Jodie Whittaker). As they do this, something crashes into a car behind them, she escapes, and the kids go to look. Something in the crash attacks one of the teens, Moses (John Boyega), and they all scare it off, chase it into a shack, and proceed to kill it. Soon after the group is carrying it around like a puppet, showing it off to the girls of the Block, and two other little kids that want to be part of the crew before deciding to take it to the top floor of the building and hide it at Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), a local drug dealer. As they think they are safe, and Hi-Hatz takes Moses under his wing, a slew of different alien creatures begin to fall from the sky, and the fight to survive the invasion of the block begins, first by the group going to kill more of them to become rich and famous, only to find they are nothing like the one they killed earlier.

This is the first time you get to actually see these creatures, and they are perhaps the most amazing alien creatures you’ll find in a movie today. The simple design is that of a large grizzly bear, but also blending in a bit of a wolf, as described by the kids of the Block to anyone that would listen, or even wouldn’t. They move around pretty fast on all fours, and are pitch black, darker then the darkest of night with the only white being their teeth that radiate a bright light. As all of this is going on, Sam has gone to the police and they are on the look out for the kids, who she and the police find while they are trying to escape the creatures. This is where the character development begins to really change. At the start you got the sense that the teens were nothing but a small gang of teenagers who had no problem hurting others and stealing things, looking to be more pro than amateur. But from here, a trust between the kids and Sam begins to grow, largely through chance encounters and the alien attack.

As the film continues, there also becomes a bit of a side story. Hi-Hatz is a man who is very vindictive, and after the aliens attack the police that put Moses in handcuffs, he and another one of the kids take the vehicle to escape and get to the block, only to slam into Hi-Hatz’ car. Of course he doesn’t want to hear about it and intends to kill them all for what happened, even when he witnesses and kills one of the aliens that attacks his accomplice. Through the whole film he brings in back up to try to hunt down Moses and the others to kill them for what happened. It does get a little irritating at times, as many of this situations end up being resolved in the common sense math of “found kids, alien, death, Hi-Hatz lives.” But at the same time, this really leads to some intimidating establishing shots of Hi-Hatz himself, such as being the lone survivor when the elevator door opens, and one of his regulars is standing there, Brewis (Luke Treadaway), who doesn’t have such good luck with the elevators in the Block to begin with. Even at his final alien confrontation, you can’t help but think that somehow he’ll badass his way out of it.

By the time you reach the end, and the death toll continues to climb including members of the teenage group, the reason for the attack becomes apparent. Brewis, the Discovery Channel veteran, points out what has been attracting the aliens to Moses thanks to the light in Hi-Hatz weed room, and that’s when the whole film takes on a momentary preachy note about karma and how all actions have consequences to them, putting all the blame on Moses. While he wasn’t the man to not take responsibility for what happened in the first place, and did his best to keep his friends, Sam, and even Ron (Nick Frost), an employee of Hi-Hatz safe from the man hunting them all, as well as the aliens, it still leads to a realization that rather quickly changes the character, and he sets out to destroy the aliens himself with Sam helping out.

The acting by all the characters is well done, and you really do feel for each character as the film progresses. While some of the kids cannot pull off the bad guy approach, it’s clear that it was meant to be that way. In the end, that attitude ends up dropped, and the main concept of the film is about the unity and brotherhood they have. The development really comes from the discoveries that Sam makes, learning about the characters, primarily Moses and his living conditions with his Uncle. While at the start of the film you really don’t care much for the characters, you do gradually find yourself wanting these kids to make it out alive, and feeling pretty bad when some of them don’t. The ending also gives you a bit of a heart warming sensation too, even though it seems to end rather abruptly, but really it becomes a suiting conclusion that you can’t build on anymore without getting a bit too cheesy which is not what this film is about. Even the creatures are done well enough that half the time you can’t tell if it’s a practical outfit, or CGI. Clearly there are times where the creature is a person in an outfit acting the part of an animal very well, and is even credited to Terry Notary as “The Creature,” but at other times, such as a window scene towards the end with many other creatures staring in, you can’t really tell if it’s real or just all CG, which it’s probably the latter. And for a good while you don’t see what they are because of how black they are, making the fear that is shown by the teens early on far more believable. Tack all of that in with a more natural occurance for the attack that makes logical, scientific sense and remains consistant with the whole film, and you have the makings of a really good alien invasion flick.

Attack the Block really stands out as a well acted, well scripted, and even well thought-out Science Fiction film. There’s no other way to explain it. With high budgets usually creating really over-the-top visuals, this one prided itself on a modern slums environment and the somewhat stereotypical kids and teens who feel cut off from the rest of the world, as well as their families. It gets a little preachy, and admittedly the start of the film seems to take forever with the kids literally just walking around from one destination to the next, but when the action starts it seems to rarely take a breather. Aside that there are a very comedic bits that work, but the only real moment that will make today’s late teen to thirty adult demographic goan in aggrivation is the Thelma from Scooby Doo scene when Jerome (Leeon Jones), one of the kids, loses his glasses in a smoke filled hallway when trying to escape the creatures. It may not be the most impressive offerings for the style, but you can’t argue that it’s still a strong movie that is well worth sitting down. The one hour and twenty-eight minute length of the film will definitely fly by, and you’ll even catch yourself putting all other outside distractions aside as you get tangled up in the character development and the kids trying to stay alive, yet save the day.

Overall Score: 7/10

Attack the Block
Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.