Attack the Block (2011) is Joe Cornish’s (of Adam & Joe fame) debut feature film – a hoodies versus aliens monster movie blessed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of 80s science fiction. As equally scary as it is hilarious, this lovingly created, playful action/comedy hybrid hides a much more intelligent story behind its façade of colloquial slang and adolescent humour.
One night in Lambeth, South London, a young nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is ambushed by a group of menacing, knife-wielding teenagers. They steal the few valuables she possesses, but before they can complete their intimidating assault, a meteorite crashes into a neighbouring car – allowing Sam the opportunity to escape whilst simultaneously sparking the interest of these juvenile delinquents. They soon discover that cased inside this otherworldly object is an alien. Being the testosterone-fuelled, anarchic youths they are they decide to hunt it down and kill it. However, it soon transpires that this wasn’t a one-off, but rather the beginning of a full-blown, extraterrestrial invasion. The rabble of depraved teenagers soon find themselves turned from hunters to hunted, as they batten down the hatches and attempt to protect the council housing estate they refer to as ‘The Block’.
Attack the Block is a film which could have so easily gone wrong. Indeed, even the marketing for the film seemed determined to make this stylish and suspenseful throwback to 80s sci-fi makes it appear like a woefully cheesy and deeply patronising ‘chavtastic’ sitcom. Yet thanks to some immensely impressively performances from a relatively inexperience and youthful cast (with added credibility courtesy of Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway), combined with some deft and subtle touches by Joe Cornish (a man with a well-documented love for traditional science fiction), Attack the Block manages to become one of those incredibly rare cinematic beasts that’s both genuinely fun and emotionally engrossing.
Cornish’s ability to coax such superb performances from this youthful cast (especially John Boyega as the group’s leader Moses) is central to the film’s success. Not only has he created a realistic depiction of South London’s youth culture, but has also managed to turn his collection of thoroughly dislikeable looters into an increasingly likeable rabble of anti-heroes. Each teen expels an infectious vibrancy that, despite its hideous grounding in pop culture and the modern day neglect for correct grammar and punctuation, soon becomes quite charming, installing both a welcome degree of realism and perverse desire for these kids to survive, culminating in the audience wholeheartedly getting behind these destructive adolescents and their inventive approach towards survival.
Films like Attack the Block, which rely heavily on a cine-literate knowledge of the genre they’re parodying, are rarely as enjoyable and unique as this. Thanks to a naturalistic script, some impressive special effects (considering the tight budget) and a healthy injection of charisma, Attack the Block is a joyful amalgamation of 80s nostalgia and topical social commentary, neatly presented as a thrilling piece of science fiction escapism. Whilst some way behind the critical and financial success of Super 8 (2011), Cornish’s alien invasion drama/comedy feels much more sincere in its direction and, as a result, much easier to love.