James Reviews Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block [Theatrical Review]

That’s an alien bruv, believe it.

Coming out of the streets of South London, Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block is already generating almost universal positive buzz. Having seen the film a total of three times, each time with a different crowd of varying sizes, my worry was the experience of seeing the film would diminish every time. Or did it somehow grow at a rate that most films don’t do today? I could be a bit of an annoying prat but I won’t be like that because I think of all of you like my fam. Attack the Block is, quite simply, my favorite movie of the year. Hands down. You should read more below to see why.

We follow Sam (Jodie Whittaker) as she is walking home, speaking to her mom on her cellphone. As she’s going down dark alleyways and the fireworks are blasting all around her, we see five hooded and masked individuals, staring her down. They mug her at knife point, demanding her phone, purse and even her ring. She gives up everything when all of a sudden, something from the sky falls and crashes into a car next to them. Sam runs off and the lead hoodie Moses (John Boyega) goes to investigate and is attacked by an alien before stabbing it. As it runs off, the other kids Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard) question what the creature was. But Moses doesn’t care, he just wants to kill it for attacking him. After doing so, they parade around the neighborhood with their spoils and bring it up to Ron’s (Nick Frost) apartment, where he has his weed room and where Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) centers his business. He is the king of the block, Wyndham House, and controls the drugs and other assorted criminal activities. He offers Moses a chance to become one of his drug dealers, which he takes, and then the kids notice something else. More aliens are crashing in the surrounding area.

They go off to combat the alien invasion, at first thinking it will be as easy as the first one. When they see a meteor with a imprint of what was just in there, these aliens are much larger and more intimidating looking. When they finally see one in the flesh, it’s a huge hulking dark being, with glowing blue teeth that is one of the more frightening designs of an alien in quite some time. They’re shadow like, very reminiscent of the rotoscope technique used in Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings with his Dark Riders (which I was happy to hear is one influence Cornish referenced recently). No eyes means they are essentially blind, but they keep tracking down the kids no matter where they go in the block. We’re also introduced to Brewis (Luke Treadaway), a pothead just buying some weed and wishing he could just leave the block and go to a house party he was invited to, but being that he took some science courses, he does give some proper insight into what these non-terrestrial beings might be after.

This is a film that I was excited before it was coming out but the more I’ve seen it, the more I fall head over heels in love with. It reminds me of the way I felt when I saw Shaun of the Dead before anyone else really did in the U.S. (import DVD, that’s how) and that British charm is all over both of these films. It’s not surprising that Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright are good friends, wrote the Ant-Man script and helped with the Tintin screenplay as well, because they feel as if they’re almost in the same world. Nick Frost being in the mix doesn’t make Cornish’s film seem like a Wright film, though, as I’ve read in some reviews. Instead it just seems like these characters are all part of a self contained genre world, kind of like how Tarantino’s films, especially his earlier ones, feel as though they are all co-existing.

It’s a multi-layered film, too. We have a young and now up and coming cast, with John Boyega’s Moses as a new anti-hero for the under 18 demographic. You won’t be able to help but understand why he was going down the path of crime, because in a world where the feds are always on your tail, what else is best for you? The arc of his character of little words, he controls the screen every time he’s on it. For a first time film film actor, that’s some huge praise I’m giving to Boyega, and he deserves it. The rest of the cast, feeling as real as the block itself, are equally as great, with Alex Esmail’s Pest a new encyclopedia full of quotes we’ll be hearing from film fanatics everywhere. Jodie Whittaker is great as Sam, who was burned by these kids earlier and then continuously questions them in their life choice but grows to understand why they are the way they are. And I will say this, when Luke Treadaway’s Brewis is introduced, you will not be able to get out that classic cut out of your head.

In Joe Cornish’s debut film, he assembled a cast of kids that feel real because, in fact, they are real kids. Doing the smart but very risky thing of getting inexperienced but kids that do live in this environment, was the best thing for a film like this. A lot of people are saying it reminds them of The Goonies, but I have to disagree with that. While the whole ‘kids on a mission’ thing works in that comparison, it plays more like The Monster Squad, mainly because with The Goonies it was their last mission together. In The Monster Squad, this threat comes at them and they do what most kids would want to do, and that’s make a difference and stop the evil before it can spread. It’s more like The Monster Squad by way of Assault on Precinct 13. It is a siege film, after all. Even looking at Abrams’ recent Super 8 as the perfect example of the nostalgia of youth, I get more of it from Attack the Block. Growing up in New York City, I grew up with the projects around me and with friends who were a little on the criminal side. But that world feels more real to me than the quaint suburb of Super 8. To others it will be the other way around. And a quick response to people complaining about the language, not entirely sure of what he characters are saying: one looks back at Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and doesn’t remember subtitles for the theatrical run. Slang is ever changing, and as a viewer you can come to the conclusion what the words mean by their inflection and the characters reacting to them as well. I like to have faith in the movie going public.

Cornish has done a thing I thought unthinkable in today’s landscape and that’s make a film instantly quotable with characters you truly care about, even when starting the film off with a scene that paints them as the bad guys. It’s an uphill battle now to redeem these kids and that’s risky film making and most directors would have a problem with that, especially first time feature film directors. Cornish does it with an able eye, giving us this world of South London with its interesting cast of characters, all at night, with a great supporting team behind him. Everyone from Terry Notary (who is the man in suit creature we see throughout and he will frighten you with the way he can run on all fours) to Steven Price and Basement Jaxx for supplying the amazing soundtrack. It’s just another example how all the pieces to the puzzle fit perfectly together to make a finished film that already feels timeless. Hopefully the praise will continue when it comes out Friday, July 29th and beyond that. One hopes it does well so we can see this cast of characters again, fighting something else in the block. Believe, bruv, believe.

10/10, the highest mark I can give.

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