A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Allow It | ATTACK THE BLOCK

In action, Horror on April 1, 2011 at 1:28 am

I wish I could time-travel back to the 80’s and show ATTACK THE BLOCK  to my childhood self. As a kid that grew up on CRITTERS; THE GATE; GHOULIES; MONSTER SQUAD and yes, naturally, GREMLINS; me – then – would have eaten it up. How do I know this? Because me – now – ate it up like the sweetest of candies. Now, I don’t want to oversell this movie to you. It’s not the most nuanced, delicate and thought-provoking of cinema; but what it is, is a fantastic adventure in the vein of those movies listed above as well as “kids left to themselves” genre – that seems to have really disappeared. Movies like THE WARRIORS; STAND BY ME; THE EXPLORERS; GOONIES; and THE OUTSIDERS. (I want to mention ET in here somewhere…and I just did. Okay, maybe one more reference later.) Oh and just randomly, SILVER BULLET too…

Attack the Block is the story of a group of hoodlums in South London who go around terrorizing the block they live on – and at the beginning of the movie, are introduced mugging Sam (Jodie Whittaker). They wear bandanas like the bandits of old and roll off on their BMX bikes like the villains in… Sorry my BMX references are failing me. Fortunately for Sam – unfortunately for everyone in South London – the mugging is interrupted by a meteor crashing into a near-by car. The gang leader, Moses (John Boyega) sees this as an opportunity to loot the damaged vehicle. In the process, he gets a face-full of unexpected alien mayhem.

From here the story kicks off. More aliens crash-land in the block and this group of kids seek them out to try and defend their land from this hostile takeover. In the process, we get a taste of “ghetto” life and see the dynamics of how the hierarchy of the block works. There’s the group of girls who live in the (second) most secure apartment in the high-rise; who the boys seek out when they realize they’re a little out-matched by the alien creatures. There’s the pot-dealer (played by the always fun Nick Frost – and since I didn’t write about it, also check out his latest other alien flick, PAUL), whose pot-room IS the most secure location in the building. We get to see how the boys interact with their parents and guardians – and the fun excuses they give over what they’re actually doing. (A lot of “got hurt playing football” comments.) And then there’s the king of the block, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) – the rapping, drug-dealing thug that misinterprets the alien invasion as Moses trying to overtake his turf. The police even have a heavy presence in the movie. Though, mostly just another thing to run from and to make sure all the action stays contained in the blocks. (Possibly also fodder for the aliens.)

Yeah, but why’s this movie so good, you ask?

The fun here is the no-pulled punches approach the movie takes with it’s leads. There are a number of casualties, the kids are rough and tumble and more than capable of holding their own. It’s not some sanitized, “walkie-talkies instead of shotguns” kind of movie that acts like it’s a story about kids in danger, without any. (Zing! ET burn!!) Secondly, even though we’re mainly rooting for a group of bad guys, when they’re this outmatched, they become the under-dogs and once Sam is forced into tagging along with them, we want to see them succeed – slash, possibly survive. And best of all the movie takes this scenario seriously and it works. There’s nothing really shoe-horned in – even the obvious things that are setup, or are just “the old stand-by” for these kinds of movies – and the action moves fast enough that any flaws in the logic aren’t important by the time you might have caught them.

The characters and environment itself is also well-defined. (Though I hold no assumptions on whether it’s a realistic look at these kinds of neighborhoods or not.) There are several moments where the characters get to spout some deeper, message about life where they live. From the accessibility to drugs and guns; to who gets arrested and the likelihood that the police will help (one of the characters says, “you’d be better off calling the Ghostbusters.”), and who gets messed with by the gangs. It never gets so heavy that it’s distracting – and it fits nicely with the horror and humor of the piece. But, it adds layers that will be noticed upon repeated viewings, I’m sure. Which fit right in with the other great horror, siege movies of the past. Flicks like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13; THE THING; DAWN OF THE DEAD; DEMON KNIGHT (did I really just reference that? Yes, I did) and FROM DUSK TIL DAWN. There’s always that peppering of one character’s philosophy on life, and on the down-trodden who in this one moment get to fight for what’s right – or die.

Going back one second to the humor. While there is a lot of really funny stuff in the movie. It’s never quite as attention-grabbing as in other movies of this sort that come out nowadays – I’m looking at the likes of Edgar Wright (who was also a Producer on this movie) and the Apatow-like movies (mainly, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS seems the most apt comparison). It all feels fairly organic, and what doesn’t works because it’s mixed in with the slang that most American audiences probably aren’t going to catch. (Another point to bring up real quick, is the idea that the movie might need subtitles, for a US release…That’s pretty much the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. The end of that discussion.)

The last thing that is so impressive about the movie are the aliens themselves. The first one we get a peak at looks pretty great in the instances we get a close-up on it. It’s never lingered on too long to really question it’s authenticity or possibly even lack in quality. (Also helpful, when characters call out that it looks like a puppet or not real.) But, the best thing about it is that it’s there! It’s practical. The kids spend about five minutes dragging around the carcass of the initial creature they kill. Flinging it in the faces of girls, showing it to the drug dealers, and raising it over their heads as a trophy. The later aliens, who become the main threats of the movie, look completely different and are pretty amazingly designed and executed. From their flat black fur – which makes them just giant black blobs with legs and teeth, no matter the light that they’re shown in. To the glowing marks on their heads (one of my favorite design concepts, ever!). The way they’re pulled off, the effects work perfectly in blending what’s practical and what’s digital. Something that is lacking a lot in cinematic creatures of today. They boldly take the less is more approach and it works like gangbusters. (Heh. See what I did there?)

In the end, the movie is amazingly fun. I could see buying this on DVD right now and watching it endlessly. It combines all the great stuff from the movies when I was a kid. It boldly holds the forebears of who came before (Dante, Carpenter, Hill, etc.) out there for us to partake in and say, “yes, we’re just like that.” I’d pass it around to my friends and preach to everyone I meet about their need to see it. Unfortunately, as of this writing that’s not really a possibility, as I believe ATTACK THE BLOCK doesn’t currently have a US distributor (hopefully that was corrected after the screening I was at tonight), so it’ll be up to various festival screenings or getting lucky like I did tonight for special screenings. But definitely watch it if you can!!

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