Saturday, November 05, 2016

Attack the Block

ATTACK THE BLOCK (Joe Cornish, 2011)

Despite keeping a watchful eye on her surroundings as she makes her way home to an apartment in a public housing complex, Sam (Jodie Whittaker) runs into five teenage delinquents on a night of revelry in London in ATTACK THE BLOCK. As they’re stealing her phone and ring, a meteorite crashes into a nearby car, causing a distraction that lets Sam get away shaken but unharmed. Moses (John Boyega) starts rooting through the car for anything worth taking when a creature scratches him and runs away. The boys chase after the small hairless alien, and Moses corners and kills it.

They take the body to the drug dealer who lives on the top floor of their tower block until they can figure out what to do with it. From the high vantage point they can see all of the other meteorites falling around the city unnoticed among the fireworks. Moses and his crew go out to do some more alien hunting, but the next ones they encounter are bigger, like a cross of a gorilla and a dog with glowing teeth and without eyes, and relentless in chasing the teens. While running from them, they cross paths with Sam riding along with the police. Although Moses is handcuffed and locked up in the back of their van, the aliens make quick work of the cops. Sam gets away from the teenagers again, but knowing that she’s a nurse, they track her down in the tower to help when one of them is bitten by an alien. Like it or not, she is stuck with them if she’s to survive the aliens attacking the building.

With its mix of science fiction, comedy, horror, and action, ATTACK THE BLOCK has the makings of a cult hit. Writer-director Joe Cornish’s film is too slim in character and story to deserve elevation to word-of-mouth classic status--it’s more minor than major--but it is an entertaining romp that benefits from maintaining a local focus. The world could be coming to an end with this invasion, but for these characters that encircles the borders of their neighborhood, not the entire globe. Although they don’t have much on this block, they’re going fight for what little is theirs.

The spirit of ATTACK THE BLOCK is freewheeling fun, yet Cornish struggles to establish that tone by setting up teenage muggers as the points of identification. He’s aiming for an antihero in the vein of John Carpenter’s films. Moses and his associates are hard to cheer on, though, when their introduction is robbing a vulnerable woman and being unrepentant about it. Their criminal activity seems to be indulged out of a sense of boredom or fun, just kids being kids, than desperate need. That doesn’t sit particularly well for a long time and can hardly be dismissed even when the usual sops are thrown in to explain why Moses is the way he is. Cornish has more success in softening the toughness of Moses and the other boys through comedy that undermines the poses they are adopting. The influence of Edgar Wright, one of the executive producers, is readily apparent in ATTACK THE BLOCK’s humor regarding its self-destructive characters; it could just stand to have more of it earlier in the film.

Cornish has room for improvement in developing his characters and the thin premise, but ATTACK THE BLOCK boasts enough cleverness for it to satisfy on a basic level. The alien’s teeth, which can initially be mistaken for eyes, are a nice design flourish. The action demonstrates the ability to employ modest means to craft excitement. The humor and elements of surprise bolster the anything-goes spirit. ATTACK THE BLOCK is infused with the brashness of youth, a quality that gives it a spark and leads to some less desirable choices.

Grade: B-

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