wed 20/09/2017

Attack the Block | reviews, news & interviews

Attack the Block

Attack the Block

Horror comedy in which aliens invade a high rise is a hoot. Believe

Negative stereotyping? The five heroes of 'Attack the Block' could certainly be a bit more polite and possess fewer weapons

Several years ago the film career of Simon Pegg was launched by Shaun of the Dead, a comic tribute to the low-budget killer-zombie flick. Pegg has long since moved on to bigger, if not always better, things. Without him the film’s producers have returned to the same thematic patch, but with one crucial difference. This time the invading force is stalking not white middle-class slackers in their thirties but a tooled-up posse of teenage boys from the ‘hood. It feels like a much fairer fight.

Earlier on this week on Front Row there was much talk of so-called negative stereotyping in Attack the Block. That seems sort of wrong-headed. I’ve been interviewing distinguished black actors for years and the older ones always say the same thing: please will writers and casting directors get over their white liberal anxiety that the black guys must always be the good guys lest they seem products of a racist agenda. In Attack the Block they have their wish.

The five boys who take on the gorilla-like creatures tumbling like fireworks out of the sky could certainly be a bit more polite and possess fewer weapons. When we first meet a bunch of them they are mugging an innocent young woman (Jodie Whittaker) on Bonfire Night. It’s all quite real. On this evidence, you’re thinking, evisceration by alien with iridescent blue jaws is way too good for them. But they are more than a match for the small furry knapsack-like creature which interrupts their night’s work when it crash-lands on a nearby Audi.

attack_the_block_04For the film to work, we need to start liking Moses, Jerome, Biggz, Pest and Dennis, and fast. Thanks to a knowing script and enthusiastic performances - Alex Esmail's Pest (pictured right) is my favourite - that happens as soon as bigger, badder aliens start landing in the neighbourhood, killing policemen and criminals alike and laying siege to the high rise. Whittaker’s character, a nurse, is thrust into proximity with the five boys who have mugged her and, when they realise that they are dealing with a common enemy, they begrudgingly learn to respect one another and fight side by side.

The script is rich in references to films and characters which have been this way before, from Ghostbusters and Gremlins to Harry Potter’s Dobby and Gollum from Lord of the Rings. The cineliteracy extends to a classic tooling-up sequence in which the boys grab their weapons for the coming battle. Positioning them much as any such action movie would, the one difference is that these screen heroes run out of text credit on their phones and have mums watching the clock. They also speak south-London patois, a dense mulch of demotic imperatives (“believe”, “trust” etc) and slangy stylings of the street. There’s a lovely moment when a weedy posh boy (Luke Treadaway) who uses the same dealer tries to talk to the kids in their own language, only to elicit looks of utter scorn. Jokes.

In a nod to Shaun of the Dead, Nick Frost plays another of his dopey tubsters but, hiding in his top-floor drug den, he’s barely there for long passages of the action. An aura of novelty is supplied by Joe Cornish, one half of the comedy duo Adam and Joe, here making his debut as a film director. He knows the generic grammar just as well as Edgar Wright (who directed Shaun... and Hot Fuzz) and makes inventive use of the topography of the block, its corridors, lifts, gangways and, in the case of one terrified resident, its wheelie bins.

 

attack_the_block_06As for the politics of ethnicity, Cornish's script makes a fleeting stab at seriousness. Moses - John Boyega, excellent (pictured left with Whittaker and Treadaway) - the gang leader who has to search for the hero inside while taming the villain, reckons “the government probably bred those tings to kill black boys. We can’t kill each other fast enough”. There’s even a suggestion that the eyeless invaders are some kind of ethnic minority themselves. After killing one of them, a gang member marvels at the colour of the corpse: “That’s blacker than my cousin!” It seems kind of absurd to home in on the homily implanted in what is essentially an entertainment. But an alien invasion teaches these boys that selflessness and respect for nice middle-class people are not to be sniffed at. Hey, maybe social services could screen the film as an education tool?

If Attack the Block, like a lot of action flicks, cannot quite deliver a pulsating climax, there are plenty of pleasures along the way, none more than two pre-pubertal boys busting to join the fray with their pump-action water pistols and insistent that they be known by their gangsta names of Mayhem and Probz. As Biggz (Simon Howard) says approvingly after they dispatch an alien, “Ratings.” You can safely predict the same for Attack the Block.

Watch the trailer for Attack the Block

An alien invasion teaches these boys that selflessness and respect for nice middle-class people are not to be sniffed at

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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