(No longer in theaters)
Nira Park, James Wilson
Jul 29, 2011
Joe Cornish’s terrific low-budget British thriller Attack the Block could be called Homies & Aliens, and it has what’s missing from Favreau’s impersonal Hollywood product. It’s wall-to-wall sci-fi pop-culture bric-a-brac, yet it feels organic. There’s something more at stake than the fate of a movie-ish Earth.
The film centers on a roving gang of hooligans, mostly black but with token black-acting whites, who live in a South London housing project or “council estate.” In the opening scene, they mug a white nurse (Jodie Whittaker), who gets away when something big falls from the sky and destroys a nearby car. As Moses, the leader, John Boyega (in his film debut) has the poise of a young Denzel Washington and a gift for appearing courageous and frightened at once. Moses’s problem is his pride—he can’t be shown up—which is why he chases the alien, kills it, and carries it on a stick like a trophy. It’s only later he understands that his macho instinct for revenge has caused much of the carnage.
Not all, though. These are nasty creatures—described by one teen as looking as if a monkey had fucked a fish—that rip people to shreds with iridescent fangs. But the splatter is secondary. Attack the Block is the story of kids on their own, with no viable authority figures, one even wondering if the creatures weren’t sent to kill black boys because “We ain’t killing each other fast enough.” To defend the block, the gang—which now includes the nurse they mugged—grabs samurai swords and guns and fireworks. It’s their chance to prove they’re more than society’s castoffs.
Cornish, like Edgar Wright (who directed Shaun of the Dead and was an executive producer here), can parody a genre in a way that revitalizes it, that reminds you why the genre was born in the first place. The movie is in a different galaxy than Cowboys & Aliens: It has, in both senses, guts.