Halloween Horror: Attack the Block (2011)

Now here’s a movie that combines genre thrills and social commentary well! One Guy Fawkes Night in the South of London, a gang of young hoodlums confront and mug a nurse named Samantha (Jodie Whittaker). Suddenly, a meteorite crashes into a nearby car and Samantha manages to run away. As the young lads check out the wreckage, an alien attacks them. They chase and eventually kill the creature, and then decide to take the body to the local marijuana dealer (Nick Frost) to get his advice on how best to exploit the discovery for fame and fortune. More and more meteorites come down. With their neighbourhood under attack, the boys set out to defend their “block” (their tower block or low-income high rise) against the alien invaders. They eventually cross paths with Samantha once again, since it turns out she has recently moved to their block. There’s also some trouble with the area’s drug boss. Attack the Block is kind of like setting your typical alien invasion movie in a British version of The Wire.

Admittedly, neither the alien invader story nor the South London youth gang story sound very original, but it’s the unlikely combination of the two that makes Attack the Block stand out. Although the plot goes through some expected beats, director Joe Cornish handles things deftly for the most part, nicely alternating between moments of cheeky humour and dramatic substance.

As Moses, the leader of the hoodlums and the pillar of Attack the Block, John Boyega quietly emerges as something special. It helps that Cornish develops the character pretty delicately. Moses’ perpetual frown, suppressed anger, and seething resentment do more to convey the complexities of youth poverty and hoodie crime than any number of speeches would have. Boyega’s performance is fairly muted, which helps make Moses’ expected transformation from cocky young thug to something of a hero all the more believable. When he’s jumping around wielding a katana late in the film, it got me excited to see him wield a lightsaber in the new Star Wars.

The rest of the gang (Alex Esmail, Leeon Jones, Franz Drameh, and Simon Howard) are pretty funny and surprisingly not annoying (smart ass kids are often annoying in films). Luke Treadaway’s posh stoner, who shows up to buy some weed and tries hard to fit in among the working class kids, is something of a scene-stealer.

The performances and the social commentary aren’t the only aspects of Attack the Block kept under control. The scares and jumps aren’t overdone, and the running time (88 min.) is nice and short. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good long film, but too much “light entertainment” these days is clocking in well over two hours. Cornish seems to recognize that he has a good premise but there’s only so much to do with it, so the film doesn’t go off in any unwanted or tedious directions, as so many genre movies do.

8 out of 10

Attack the Block (2011, UK/France)

Written and directed by Joe Cornish; starring John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Leeon Jones, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, and Nick Frost.