Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost
There’s not an inch of fat on Attack the Block’s lean 88 minute running time
When a gang of South London teens chance upon a strange creature and promptly kick it to death they think the biggest fight of their night is over. But soon an extraterrestrial invasion force arrives, set on reclaiming what was theirs.
Attack the Block pits a bunch of gawky, sweary teenagers against monstrous invaders from outer space. If that premise irks you, then best move along. For everyone else, get ready for a mega monster mash.
Starting with an opening score that pays clear homage to 80s movie maestro John Carpenter, there’s not an inch of fat on Attack the Block’s lean 88 minute running time – setting up location and characters over the titles and launching straight into a mugging and subsequent extraterrestrial incursion. From there, it’s a breathless race to the finish line, especially once the earth bound hail of fireworks is answered by something far more sinister from above.
After some light parkour and chase scenes, the kids team up with terrorised nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) and retreat back to the tower block they call home. But the creatures soon follow, as does an enraged gangster, as the action becomes more claustrophobic, the situation more desperate and the kills more intense.
That’s right – kills. A major theme of Attack the Block is that actions have consequences and the filmmakers have no problem applying that creed to every aspect of the story. In this film, good guys will be hurt and even young characters, little more than kids, are never guaranteed to survive. When was the last time you saw a film that was brave enough to knock off a bunch of major characters under the age of 20 and not feel the need to shy away from the act in silhouette or an offscreen scream? Along with the openly crude and realistic behaviour of the leads, it lends an air of credulity to the on screen madness and happily recalls some of the best movies of the 80s – when being a kid’s film wasn’t a synonym for a brain-dead scatological comedy.
First time feature writer/director Joe Cornish does incredible work behind the camera here. What could have easily felt like a straight to video creature feature is handled with surprising subtlety – the monsters themselves are almost totally practical and revealed in snatches of ferocious imagery that recall some of the effects work in An American Werewolf in London. Their shaggy design is unique – eyeless and with a mouth laden with fluorescent teeth that flare up suddenly in darkened corners. A few CG embellishments add scale without overstaying their welcome and the action is generally grounded and impeccably shot – reaching a suitably histrionic high for the slow motion finale that had my heart in my throat.
Jodie Whittaker does solid work as Sam, providing a point of entry for the audience as an interloper in the block. The kids are routinely excellent, though sometimes a little hard to understand, headed by a powerful performance from young John Boyega as Moses. The inevitable comedic interludes are generally handled by go-to-guy Nick Frost but he’s fairly restrained here and the laughs are well meaning and only rarely jarring.
Maybe it gets a little exposition-heavy in its final scenes but for the most part Attack the Block is a gritty, action-packed triumph. Cornish brings a pleasant glow of nostalgia to proceedings without leaning too heavily on homage and dresses the whole endeavour up with a spry, video-game savvy sheen that carves its own unique niche. Highly recommended.