Monday, December 5, 2011

attack the block

Attack the Block begins with a bunch of teenage miscreants mugging a young woman named Sam (Jodie Whittaker) at knifepoint in the a London street. During the altercations, an alien shoots from the sky, whereupon the kids beat the thing to death then parade it around on a stick. At this point, you’re pretty much thinking, great, I hope this alien’s friends fly down and kick the shit out of all these kids and claim the tall flats they live in as their base. I, for one, welcomed our new alien overlords.

But then you end up following these kids through their incompetent attempts to defeat the sudden influx of aliens and, dammit, after a while you don’t want them to die after all. Led by moodily attractive teenager Moses (John Boyega), the gang come across as quite threatening to begin with until you realise that actually they are all pretty incompetent because they are, well, yoof. It’s Guy Fawkes Night, and they were out to create havoc and striving to be part of the gang led by the block’s main criminal mastermind, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). Just as they finally strike it lucky enough to actually be on their path to, well, jail, more aliens rain down on them and everything changes, seeing the gang on the wrong side of everyone, from the police to Hi-Hatz to an irate Sam.

Having kids be the protagonists for a horror/sci-fi movie is pretty interesting, especially when director Joe Cornish chooses to be open about the facts that not all accidental alien-hunters are going to be as skilled as the team from Predators. These are kids who don’t have guns or fighting skills, but instead heed the call to arms with baseball bats, firecrackers, kitchen knives and false bravado. When shit gets real and they finally twig that they’re out of their depth, they can’t call for help because they’ve all run out of mobile phone credit; when they speed down staircases on their pushbikes they inevitably crash into the ground because they are not bicycle parkour enthusiasts. Despite the fact that the majority live quite standard home lives, getting told off by their mothers or told to keep out of trouble by their nannas, they’re all too desperately rough to turn to the grown-ups when being chased by deadly critters. And that’s the other thing, with them being kids: even though the movie is kind of funny, it’s not a balls-out comedy which makes it all the more surprising when you realise that not all of the teenagers are going to live out the film.

The film briefly touches on the state of British youth, when Moses speculates that the aliens have been sent by the Feds to kill the African-British because “we’re not killing each other fast enough”. It’s a nice try, but the fact that the kids, apart from Moses himself, seem to have fairly happy upbringings and some kind of self-awareness of what they’re getting into, means the movie doesn’t go far enough down that path, and you’re not even sure if any of the gang have learned a lesson by the end of it.

Nice touches are the aliens themselves: neon-fanged black holes of colour with no depth, like an orang-utan shagged a yeti in a dark cupboard using a glow-in-the-dark condom with a hole in it. The idea that colour shading would be different on a different hadn’t occurred to me and I thought it was really interesting, to be honest; it makes them shadowy and creepy even when they’re in a brightly-lit flat. It isn’t laugh-a-minute funny (which, as it’s from the writer of Hot Fuzz and stars Nick Frost, I was expecting), but it’s pretty amusing and the dialogue between the kids (who are also great actors) can be pretty hilarious at times. The two nine-year-old boys looking up to the gang are probably the comedy relief, flinging around tough phrases in high-pitched voices. It passes the Bechdel Test and the women in it—Sam, an elderly neighbour, and the girls the gang are all interested in—are pretty kick-ass, either physically or verbally.

Nick Frost’s high billing probably has to do with his star power more than his subdued role as a stoner in the only “safe house” in the building, though he and befringed try-hard Brewis (Luke Treadaway) smoke their way through some fairly funny moments. It was a fun movie that somehow missed a vital point with me, though I can’t think exactly what; I’d recommend it happily, even though it wasn’t quite cranked up all the way on either the funny, poignant, sci-fi or horror dials.

I give Attack the Block seven out of ten rows of glowing teeth. Because rows of teeth are SCARY.