In the audacious sci-fi action-comedy Attack the Block British comedian-turned-director Joe Cornish fuses alien-invasion epic with coming-of-age drama spikes it with heavy doses of irreverent humor and wry social commentary and serves up a cinematic concoction unlike any glimpsed on this side of the Atlantic in quite some time.
The action centers on a gang of excitable hoodie-clad street kids all hailing from the same south London council estate whose interests include hip hop videogames marijuana and larceny. They’re engaged in the latter – robbing a young woman at knifepoint – when a mysterious meteor-like object comes roaring down from the sky smashing into a nearby Volvo. As their leader the grimly focused Moses (John Boyega) approaches the car to investigate a strange creature leaps out from it and bests him in a brief tussle before fleeing panicked.
Chastened by the unprovoked bum-rush Moses declares “I’m killing it ” and lights out in pursuit of the creature. And kill it he does – but only after entreating his pals to lend a hand finishing it off. Soon the boys are parading the corpse of what appears to be a newly discovered alien life-form around their hood to the delight and horror of their fellow-residents many of whom assume it to be an elaborate movie prop.
Before long many more mysterious objects are landing in south London their cargo significantly larger and more ferocious than the comparatively small and timorous first arrival. (They’re savage buggers – hairy wolf-like with glowing blue eyes and fangs.) Confronted by an invasion of feral bloodthirsty extra-terrestrials Moses and his mates react in just the way you’d expect a crew of inadequately supervised adolescent boys their judgment perhaps impaired by a mix of pot and surging hormones would: They grab all of the weapons in their midst – a hodgepodge of kitchen knives decorative swords and fireworks – jump on their bicycles and scooters and head out in search of a fight.
Director Cornish’s comic sensibility dark biting and pop-culture-laden is similar to that of his countrymen and occasional collaborators Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. (Wright produced the film; his frequent muse Nick Frost appears in a supporting role as a friendly drug-dealer.) But Attack the Block is less of a parody than the rollicking genre send-ups Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. There’s an earnestness to counterbalance the irreverence – Cornish shows real affection for his adolescent anti-heroes and their depiction feels genuine.
For the most part Cornish mixes Attack the Block’s broad tonal range effectively creating a film that is at various points hilarious suspenseful heart-wrenching shocking and exhilarating. Occasionally his boldness gets the best of him as in a few of the death scenes when the gore is laid down a little too thick. The bloody bits feel gratuitous and unnecessary seemingly added only to win points with genre fans and they mar what is otherwise a sparkling feature-film debut from a filmmaker we’ll surely be seeing more of in the future.