Home > Reviews > Review: “Attack the Block”

Review: “Attack the Block”

Directed by: Joe Cornish
Produced by: Nira Park & James Wilson; Jenny Borgars, Will Clarke, Olivier Courson, Matthew Justice, Tessa Ross, and Edgar Wright (exec. producers)
Written by: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost
Music By: Steven Price
Year: 2011


I’ve read several of the major publication reviews of this film on Rotten Tomatoes (not all of them, but several), and it seems as though the general consensus regarding Attack the  Block among many of the reviewers is that the film is ultimately a B-film that they happened to have enjoyed. Many, including some of the more favorable reviews, are quick to point out the film is a “satire” of genre tropes and a film more concerned about pacing than plotting.

While my sole viewing of Attack the Block has not ultimately sold me on the film being one of the best of 2011, as many of its more casual fans have stated, there is more to this film than meets the eye, a certain subtext that makes it plainly obvious that the film isn’t merely about action and humor, but actually has a point behind the mayhem. And, if they’re using the term “B-movie” to suggest that the film is somehow lesser because it’s not as popular, not as well funded, or belongs to a substandard sub-genre of science fiction, then I’m also not sure that these reviewers are recognizing that there seems to have been a growing trend of films of this nature having become not quite as niche as they believe it to be.

There’s an article on Cracked.com which, while not 100% scientific, illustrates that there’s a growing trend in the internet influencing the entertainment industry (mostly) for the better — at least, that’s how Cracked writer John Cheese sees it. What I took from this article was that word of mouth has returned to being a great influence on corporations, including the entertainment industry, where word of mouth is just as key to marketing as a Super Bowl ad that cost millions. A film like Attack the Block may not have gotten the same level of marketing as last year’s Transformers or even the recent 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace, but I’d imagine that a lot of the film’s limited release success was thanks to positive buzz via the internet, and I’d imagine it is doing a lot better in rentals, which is how I came to see the film. Now, I have no scientific basis for this theory and am honestly going on a gut feeling here, but haven’t we noticed that there are a largely high number of supposedly niche films like this getting released to relatively wider audiences?

If that is a fact (and, again, I’m not saying it is, but it does feel like it is, doesn’t it?), then wouldn’t it be high time that we stop and think about what we consider to be a “B-movie” all over again? The connotations of calling a film a “B-movie” are that it is amateurish, low production value, or even just bad — none of which are qualities I would ascribe to Attack the Block. The premise of the film is certainly one fit for such stereotypes of entertainment, following a gang of young hoodlums as they take on an invading swarm of alien beasts that crash down from outer space, but consider the admirable performances of the actors and the production values of the film, which despite its relatively paltry $13 million budget, manages to look fantastic and convincing in the effects department. Attack the Block is hardly B-grade entertainment, and I think we should stop thinking of “niche genre” films and immediately labeling them “B-grade.” Despite other blockbusters having 15x the budget and a lot more well known actors, Attack the Block certainly has a lot more smarts than most summer blockbusters do, too, that’s for sure!

First time director Joe Cornish, who, I must emphasize, is primarily a comedian and television personality, also wrote the script for the film and has put a lot of thought into the plotting and history behind the characters of this amusing sci-fi action/comedy hybrid. The backdrop of alien invasion is, much like the zombie outbreaks in George Romero films, largely a catalyst for the film to project its creator’s perspective on the problems our world is facing. In the subtext of this alien invasion, Cornish shows us the plight of London’s troubled youths who get wrapped up in the thug culture of the city’s south side projects.

Moses (John Boyega), the appropriately named leader of the gang, is forced to confront his past and his present throughout the film, primarily through the characters of Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) and Sam (Jodie Whittaker). Hi-Hatz is the local drug dealer who serves as the kids’ role model. In the chaos of the invasion, the boys inadvertently damage Hi-Hatz’s car. Armed with nothing but a gun and his vendetta against Moses, Hi-Hatz becomes an unstoppable force, nearly as threatening as the aliens themselves and popping up in the least expected places. Sam, meanwhile, is the woman whom the boys were mugging at the beginning of the invasion. She had escaped and alerted the local authorities, but it turns out they’re no match for the vicious beasts infesting the area, and so Sam finds herself allying with her former assailants, their ingrained survival instincts being their greatest asset. For those who don’t understand their culture, Sam is the liaison for viewers to come to understand the world from which these boys come, and Hi-Hatz, for Moses, is the life-threatening past that he must rise up from.

Of course, all the symbolism in the world means nothing if the performances aren’t any good, but as I’ve said before, there’s not a rotten one among the cast. Boyega, in particular, makes a strong impression in his debut role. Boyega was just 19 when he starred in the film, and he’s already going on to star in higher profile projects, having recently been cast in the semi-biographical Spike Lee/HBO production Da Bomb, which is inspired by the life events of Mike Tyson. Boyega plays Moses as a contemplative, commanding figure with just enough vulnerability to show that he’s still a naive kid who is coming to realize the path of destruction he’s on. Also making a strong debut is Alex Esmail, who plays the token white member of the gang and comic relief, Pest. Esmail, given his larger sum of screen time, ultimately outshines Nick Frost as the funniest character in the film with a very good sense of comic timing and all together pulling off the amusing sidekick role.

Jumayn Hunter also holds his own as the most intelligent threat standing against the gang. His performance requires him to shout a lot, but he never goes over the top to the point of chewing at scenery (eviscerating aliens is another thing entirely, though). It’s a good thing, too, that his presence is so commanding, because those aliens are pretty freaky. Their fur seemingly absorbs any light that hits it and channels it through their numerous fluorescent turquoise fangs, creating a very unique look, equal parts terrifying and cool. That they were done with people in physical costumes is all the more incredible!

Perhaps the primary fault of the film is that it might not be nearly as funny as its poster would have you believe, having come from the producers of both Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but that’s really more of a matter of marketing and audience expectations more than anything.  With so many things done right in this film, it’s hard to nitpick all the details for all the faults without realizing that, really, you just having a good time watching an intelligently made film.

There’s really nothing “satirical” or “B” quality about Attack the Block apart from a few familiar tropes. With so much standing against the film (low budget, limited releases, and several first-timers), I could understand not expecting much from the film going in. I certainly had my own expectations lowered, but that was more to do with the hype surrounding the film. And in watching it, it completely defied my expectations and inspired this little diatribe I’ve gone off on. I think it’s high time we all started treating these “genre films” with a little more respect. Attack the Block isn’t an excellent throwback or satire of its own genre (society is more like it). Attack the Block is just an awesome movie in general and well worth respect.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5


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