Receiving much word-of-mouth buzz and critical acclaim upon its release last year, “Attack the Block,” the directorial debut of British screenwriter Joe Cornish, arrives on DVD this week.
It’s inner city vs. outer space in this coming-of-age alien invasion horror comedy. Set in one night, a teen gang in South London robs a nurse on her way home from work before encountering a being that has fallen from space. They are boys, so naturally, they kill the creature. Later that night, though, the aliens send in reinforcements, and the gang, led by Moses (John Boyega) must defend their block from extra-terrestrials out for blood.
“Attack the Block” feels like a cousin of “Shaun of the Dead,” which makes sense given the friendship between Cornish and “Dead”’s Edgar Wright. Nick Frost (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”) makes the cross-over to play Ron, the block’s weed dealer whose weed room is the safest place in the block.
Much of “Attack the Block” is refreshing and amusing. It is a quick film that moves from locale to locale as briskly as its protagonist swap cultural references. That said, I was not the biggest fan of its sense of humor. Like Wright’s films, “Attack the Block” is overly-reliant on FIFA jokes and Harry Potter references which immediately date it and feel smug and very insider. The best British wit does not rely on in-the-moment pop culture references.
The dialogue by and large feels authentic. Given the thick accents and London slang, subtitles are a necessity, but for a film so attached to its geography, the language was one of its assets. Indeed so were the trills.
But the politics of “Attack the Block” remain confused at best. Perhaps I am reading too far into the film, but it never fully realizes the ethical implications of selecting such unsympathetic protagonists. I know they are just kids, but they did rob a woman at the beginning of the film. As “Attack the Block” progresses, the audience finds itself cheering these kids on for using their violent expressions against a different kind of enemy. So, is “Attack the Block” a sort of sci-fi utopic fantasy wherein misguided youths benefit society in the exact ways they are excised from it, or are the ethics completely neglected? I am not quite sure.
My other big problem with the film was Boyega’s performance as Moses. This is Moses’s film and his coming-of-age. We learn the most about him among all the wise-cracking street thugs, but Boyega’s performance does not fit the tone of the rest of the film. “Attack the Block” derives many of its laughs and thrills from never taking itself too seriously as a thriller or a comedy. But Boyega takes Moses much too seriously and, quite frankly, he does not possess the acting chops to pull this off.
Yet “Attack the Block” remains a fun and quick twist on the genre that never overstays its welcome.