This time last year I wrote a MindFood entry about stumbling across the world premiere of Monsters, Gareth Edwards’ low-key spin on giant monster movies, at SXSW. And when you write about the world premiere of a movie no one has ever heard of, there’s a strange sense of responsibility that comes with doing so. Even if you’re super excited about the movie and want to be its biggest supporter, most people won’t have an opportunity to see it for months, if at all. (Last year’s great SXSW midnight flicks Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil and The Loved Ones still don’t even have US distribution.) So there’s a certain concern that you don’t want to over-hype a movie that people can’t see, because by the time they can see it, chances are it’s not going to have lived up to that hype.
I don’t have that concern when it comes to Attack the Block, the best film I’ve seen at this year’s SXSW film festival. I’ve got no worries that I’ll over-sell and the movie will under-deliver. Joe Cornish’s directorial debut is so much damned fun that people the world over are guaranteed to fall in love with it. Nope, that’s not over-hyping it; I’m just that confident that people are going to be blown away by it.
A gang of South London hooligans have to protect their neighborhood from an invasion of aliens. Sure, that sounds like it could be the plot of an Goosebumps book or a Disney movie, but there’s none of that kiddy crap here. Attack the Block hasn’t been seen by the MPAA, so it doesn’t have a rating, but there is absolutely no doubt that it’d take home an R-rating and wear it with pride.
It’s bloody, it’s savage, it’s hilarious, it’s profane and it pulls zero punches. But the best thing about Attack the Block is that it’s not done in a tongue-in-cheek way. Cornish takes a dead serious approach to his own story, filling it with anti-hero characters you start off hating. And considering most established filmmakers never tackle characters that aren’t instantly the heroes, that’s a ballsy movie for a first time filmmaker. Imagine what would happen if Michael Bay made Shia LaBeouf out to be a drug-dealing thug instead of a bumbling dork, or if instead of Elliot leaving E.T. a trail of Reeses Pieces to follow, he rammed a sharp stick through his skull. Attack the Block does both before you can even catch your breath.
And if complex teenage characters and a penchant for awesome violence isn’t already enticing enough, know that Attack the Block features not only a highly original alien design, but also slick and stylish cinematography that lets you appreciate what’s happening. There’s none of this shakeycam, do-it-like-a-CNN-war-video malarkey going on. Joe Cornish understands that tripods and steadicams are never going to go out of style. And if his eye for awesome action isn’t enough, Cornish collaborated with Basement Jaxx to deliver the score. The combined effect of the two is like injecting crack into a can of Red Bull.
It’s just such a relief to come across a high energy movie that isn’t dumbed down for a lowest common denominator audience; that features real characters behaving realistically despite how ludicrous everything about their situation is; that will make you laugh your face off one minute and then rip a character’s face off the next. I’m talking about a movie that embodies that anything-can-happen spirit of the ‘80s without pandering to faux nostalgia or confining itself to being some kind of throwback.
Attack the Block doesn’t fit any one mold. Joe Cornish simply watched all the same movies you and I watched growing up. He fell in love with Predator and Terminator 2 and The Goonies and everything else. But instead of figuring out some way to roll them all together, he decided to make a movie that feels like a direct descendant of that generation. And considering the biggest sci-fi news item going around right now is that Hollywood wants to reboot Daredevil and make yet another superhero flick, I just hope sci-fi fans realize that not everyone is playing it safe these days. There are people like Joe Cornish out there who are making a movie that turns its back to Hollywood rules. Attack the Block may take a while to get to you, but when it does, please do check it out. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.