2011 has had a total glut of alien invasion cinema, worse yet, of totally inconsistent quality — from the inspired “Super 8″, to the solid “Paul”, to the truly inane — “Green Lantern”, “Battle: Los Angeles”, and enjoyable though it may be, the third “Transformers “. What all of these films have in common, however, is a massive budget. The U.K.-imported “Attack the Block” approaches this genre from an alternate perspective – it features virtually no known stars, has a comparatively shoe-string budget of $13 million, and is told from the perspective of a group of teenage hoodlums.
The film actually opens with these guys mugging a nurse by the name of Sam. Just as they’re making their getaway, however, something falls from the sky and attacks them — a creature that is, quite clearly, not of this world.
Their first immediate reaction? Kill it and bring it to the safest place in their London housing project — their weed room. But as more and more creatures descend into the area, it becomes quite clear that this teenage gang is gonna have to summon all the bravery and weaponry they can to defend the block.
“Attack the Block” is nearly inseparable from the internet hype built up around it — it’s played to sold-out crowds at nearly film festival it’s hit, has gotten rave reviews, and is produced by the film-community demigod and “Hot Fuzz” helmer Edgar Wright. It’s not every day the New Yorker is singing the praises of a profane alien-invasion flick.
But that deters from the fact that “Attack the Block” carries fairly modest ambitions; charmingly so, in fact. The majority of the film is set within the confines of the same apartment building, following the characters as they move from room to room, seeking cover from the chaos and planning their next move.
Director Joe Cornish’s script provides lots of banter for the characters to throw at one another, but it’s not banter for the sake of itself. It develops the characters’ personalities and relations with each other organically and humorously. (This said, a strong ear for south London accents is required to get what these kids are saying.)
With its efficient storytelling and stylized action, “Attack the Block” often evokes a kind of low-budget charm reminiscent of ’70s John Carpenter flicks. It’s directed with surprising confidence, especially given that this is Cornish’s first go-around as director.
But when “Attack the Block” really floored me was when it took a moment to slow things down and reflect on the social situation the characters face. “Attack the Block” doesn’t shy away from the fact that its protagonists, a group of lower-class, mostly black teens, are often regarded by society with a cautious hesitance.
The film’s best scene is where the gang leader Moses makes a speech, reasoning that the government sent the creatures down to take out blacks, because drugs and guns weren’t doing it fast enough. Is it irrational and false? Absolutely. But it unflinchingly captures the sort of social tension and unrest that lead to the recent riots in the film’s very location, London. You probably wouldn’t see a film going after issues like this made within the Hollywood system. And if a film can do that while providing breezy, energetic popcorn fun, I’m all for it. B