The little English film that could, Attack the Block hits limited screens this weekend. Highly championed stateside since its South by Southwest debut, what makes Attack the Block so special is that it is a throwback to the 1970′s and 1980′s films that geeks love (from Assault on Precinct 13 to Gremlins) without ever feeling like it’s just a rip-off. In that way, director Joe Cornish paid a greater homage to Steven Spielberg than J.J. Abrams. It’s a marvel. Check out our review….
- Director: Joe Cornish
- Screenplay: Joe Cornish
- Actors: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost
- Cinematography by: Tom Townend
- Music by: Steven Price, Felix Buxton, Steven Ratcliffle
Moses (Boyega) leads a gang of street toughs who assault Sam (Whittaker), a nurse on her way home. They take her wallet and phone, and then see something fall from the sky. They investigate an find a small alien, which they immediately kill and take to the local crimelord Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). But that was the first and nicest alien – the rest are the size of bears and move like wolves with three rows of teeth. They kill most of what’s in their path, so Moses and his gang form an unlikely alliance with Sam in the hopes of surviving the night.
- Tight: Clocking in at 88 minutes, for far too long event films and genre efforts are bloated with needless scenes and pointless spectacle. As a screenwriter friend of mine said, there’s no major tentpole release made in the last decade that couldn’t have twenty to thirty minutes shaved out painlessly. What Cornish does here is make every second on-screen count. Sadly, that’s rare these days. But that’s the mark of any good to great film: making sure everything on screen serves a purpose and adds up. This adds up.
- Genre Smuggling: Also, all too often there’s nothing much going on under the surface of modern films. What subtext is there in Super 8? Is there anything intentionally being said by a film as brain-dead as Transformers 3? Attack the Block works as a movie first and foremost, and as a alien invasion picture, it delivers the excitement and thrills expected of such an effort. But just under the surface is a commentary on class structure and a system that helps create its own problems. The film’s secret weapon is that it creates empathy for characters that – from the start – may be viewed as villains.
- John Boyega: Moses is a character that is tricky to play because he has to be compelling – but also start the film as an antagonist. As the film goes on, he’s revealed to have more layers, and there’s a lot going on under his surface. It’s a star-making performance, and Boyega is pitch perfect in the role. It’s going to be fun to see what he does next, but this is where it all began. It reminds of a lot of John Carpenter’s protagonists, in that they aren’t exactly heroes, but they’re definitely the right people at the right place at the wrong time.
- The Mood: Joe Cornish’s background is mostly in comedy, and though there’s definitely funny moments, when the film has to deliver big scares or tense sequences they work. From smoky hallways to a kid stuck in a garbage can, to bike races, to a scene with the cops, at no point do you feel like the film gets away from its director. And balancing all the elements of the movie to form a coherent whole is a tricky business, but Cornish never loses his grip. He’s also not afraid of a good body count, and killing off likeable characters.
- The Monsters: With glowing teeth, and a mixture of practical and rotoscope effects, the big bad aliens make for the best monsters we’ve seen in quite some time.
- Not Much: The cast are solid, the direction is on point, it’s a small film, but intentionally so. Maybe the class consciousness rears its head up in ways that may make some viewers a little nervous, but it never interferes with the narrative. If you want to see a movie about evil aliens and a rag-tag bunch of humans who hope to survive them, this delivers like gangbusters.
With genre efforts going mainstream and dullish (see this week’s Cowboys And Aliens), it’s good to see someone who understands why the Amblin films resonated in the 1980′s, and it’s also great to see an artist like Joe Cornish take his influences, and turn them into something that feels familiar but never a clone of the things he loved. That’s what Spielberg and company did back in the day, and that’s what Joe Cornish has done.
Attack the Block goes out on limited release July 29, with more dates to follow.