SXSW ’11: Attack the Block – Review



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Comedy, horror collide in pitch-perfect ’80s throwback

Attack the Block is a movie born into the wrong decade. A pitch-perfect throwback to the world of ‘80s clamshell-encased VHS tapes — their screens adorned with eye-catching artwork designed to sell the film’s concept more so than its stars, Attack the Block is a sometimes funny, frequently scary hybrid of both The Monster Squad and the Critters franchise.

Writer/director Joe Cornish’s film begins with a chance encounter between a crash-landed alien and a group of British hooligans. Despite the gang’s average age probably being around 14, the group of children makes short work of the monster — kicking it to death for looking scary before proudly parading its corpse through their low-income neighborhood as proof of their prowess as badass motherfuckers.

Unfortunately, this downed extra-terrestrial is just the opening salvo to a full-on alien invasion — and the second wave of space invaders are bigger, scarier and have a burning desire to track down the teenagers that killed their buddy.

Cornish’s film does not feature particularly fresh ideas. The basic concept is one that can be found in any number of the similarly themed horror flicks that are currently clogging the shelves of your neighborhood video store. What makes Attack the Block stand out — and easily become one of the highlights at this year’s South by Southwest — is the good humor and imagination that Cornish handles his film with.

For starters, the film’s youthful heroes aren’t particularly heroic. They are first introduced to audiences as they attempt to mug Sam, a young woman played by Jodie Whittaker. A nurse walking home from work, Sam finds herself surrounded by the neighborhood’s local street rats — one of which is pointing a knife in her face. When aliens start prowling the projects, though, Sam finds herself teamed up with her impromptu guardians — the smart-mouthed kids who just hours before were trying to steal her purse.

It’s this ruthlessness and hard-edged sensibility that gives the kids a fighting chance against the film’s group of aliens — bulky, furry monsters without eyes but sporting the meanest glowing teeth you’ve seen this side of a deep-sea fish. If the Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures from Jeff Smith’s Bone were translated for a live-action film, they’d look a great deal like the monsters from Attack the Block.

A nice blend of computer and practical effects, the monsters are effectively scary thanks in large part to the sly mystery Cornish keeps their appearance just slightly shrouded in for most of the film.

It’s not just alien monsters that the kids must escape from, though. During the initial fracas with the aliens, the kids also wind up pissing off both the local cops and a neighborhood drug-dealer — leading to both parties being hot on their trail in addition to the growing legion of furry monsters.

Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway co-star as a pair of stoners who provide a small level of support to the kids — including providing them with some much needed pot to help the little rascals unwind while running from the razor-toothed monsters on their trail.

Led by Moses (John Boyega), Attack the Block‘s small group of youthful ass-kickers must defend their neighborhood against the invading aliens, the cops and the drug dealer — all of them out for the kids’ blood. Utilizing everything at their disposal including water guns full of lighter fluid, baseball bats and fireworks, the kids put up a good fight and the film frequently becomes downright violent —never letting the blood and guts overwhelm the film’s wild-eyed charm, though.

Attack the Block features a non-stop barrage of action and never lets its energy slow down to take a breath. The film nicely blends its comedy and action — similar to the films of Edgar Wright, who serves as executive producer on the film.

While the actors’ British accents can get a bit heavy at times — a factor that has apparently led to most American distributors being squeamish about releasing the movie in the States — most audiences should adapt to the accents and slang by the time the film kicks into high gear.

By the point in the movie where dozens of giant alien monsters are scaling a low-income housing high-rise, audiences will be so engrossed in the constant barrage of fun barreling full-force at their faces, they’d be along for the ride even if the actors started speaking in tongues.

Director: Joe Cornish
Notable Cast: Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway and John Boyega
Writer(s): Joe Cornish

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