The moment that John Boyega was cast in Star Wars I’d been putting Attack the Block on my must revisit list and Joe Cornish’s debut directorial effort is as good as I remembered, perhaps better. Writer/Director Joe Cornish’s debut effort Attack the Block brings alien invasion to the London tenements in glorious John Carpenter style. When Moses, Pest, Jerome, Biggz & Dennis mug a woman – Sam (Jodie Whitaker) - walking through their area and they are interrupted by a meteor crash landing. The boys discover the meteor’s alien passenger, kill it and trigger a reprisal from its larger and more vicious counterparts. The boys must defend their ‘block’ from an alien invasion.
This does not feel like a debut effort. Cornish whips the camera in an out of the block, using a lot of practical 80s influenced, practical special effects that give the aliens (who look like gorilla/dogs with luminescent green teeth) a really tangible feel. Cornish also uses the claustrophobic corridors of the tenement to their full terrifying affect – I felt myself tensing up constantly in my chair as darkened corridors suddenly became lit with fluoro green, vicious, teeth; or fire-cracker smoke pouring through the corridors making the characters look like they’re wading through milk.
Alongside action direction and managing the special effects Cornish draws out a great bunch of performances from the key group of young actors. John Boyega as Moses; Alex Esmail as Pest; Leeon Jones as Jerome; Franz Drameh as Dennis; and Simon Howard as Biggz all play ‘real’ teenagers with deep, emotionally authentic performances. John Boyega is a stand-out. This young British-Nigerian actor has a powerful leading man’s screen presence with a great handle on the nuanced subtlety required to carry the film as he does. It’s impossible to watch Nick Frost without smiling. He’s great as the greasy faux sophisticated pot dealer in the block that imparts sage wisdom to the boys.
Cornish and his troupe allow the audience to remain conflicted about these characters as the perspective shifts. One of the great elements John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) was that it was able to infuse some of the prevalent racial and political tension in the wake of Vietnam into the interaction between Macready (Kurt Russel) and Childs (Keith David). Attack the Block highlights the disenfranchised, forgotten immigrant youth in England without guidance surviving according to the rules/laws of their ‘Block’. They’re geared to disrespect authority because they’re already profiled as criminals because of how they look and where they live. Attack the Block feels so damned authentic. These lower class kids are in a petri dish that chemically gears you against the figures of authority in order to build up a resilience and yet when you scratch the surface you realise that they’re playing by the rules of their environment and that is what they need to do to survive the day to day.
Attack the Block lingers with you. Cornish is a formidable filmmaker and Boyega is an outstanding talent.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Joe Cornish
Written by: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost, Alex Esmail, Luke Treadaway, Paige Meade, Leeon Jones, Franz Drameh, Jumayn Hunter, Simon Howard