Such a surprising little package. Written and directed by Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe fame, this very white and very middle class man has made a tremendous début film set in the inner city streets of South London. Essentially a sci-fi horror flick, with obvious comedic undertones, the story follows a group of ‘hoodies’ as they defend their block of flats against an alien invasion. Sounds corny and unwatchable, but it actually works hard to be neither of these things.
While watching Attack The Block, I couldn’t help thinking it was an English comedy version of The Wire with scary black aliens thrown in for good measure. Muggings, drugs and ‘tooled-up’ teenagers on mopeds and BMX bikes don’t make for your typical sci-fi film, but it really works. Not only does it give you a reasonably good story line to get you teeth into (possibly illuminous blue teeth – the only visible part of our monstrous invaders) but provides a surprisingly sensitive insight into the lives of teenagers trying to survive in such areas of London. Cleverly written, you are never confronted with an overwhelming sense of moral injustice for these children, but you are subtly educated as to their real fears and the vicious circles they may find themselves in. In one scene you realise just how young these hard-nut teens are when you view the Spiderman duvet in our lead’s bedroom. Despite all the extra-terrestrial antics, it is in this moment you suddenly feel the reality of their situation, that this film has delicately portrayed something very, very disturbingly true. I never expected a ‘hoody’ film with sucking teeth and lax language to be so touching in places, and without even the slightest hint of irony or forced sap. Brrrap! Ya get me? Innit. Nope. can’t carry off the lingo!
These sensitive moments are written deep into the tapestry and are fleeting so as not to inappropriately ram them down your throat. And when all is said and done, it is an alien movie. The beasts are large and many and I suspect not a huge amount of CGI has been used in their creation (which in itself is refreshing) and they are completely terrifying – something difficult to do with the plethora of alien material in our cinematic world. But they are far from being the real stars. The film is driven by the boys, their interaction and dialogue. They are tremendous and as with most of the ‘truth’ aspect of the film, they actually come from such areas. The director and producers (who also produced Shaun of the Dead amongst other great British flicks) held open auditions for their lead roles and cast a motley crew of real teen-hoods who are utterly remarkable. It is hard to believe their lack of acting experience prior to this as they stand head and shoulders above all the adult actors – including Nick Frost. However, Jodie Whittaker is also fab, casting aside her slightly more formal and literary based roles to be the heroine stuck in a bad situation.
Funny, frightening and delicately done, as I said at the top, this film is completely surprising – in a very good way. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, not that it is offensive or brutal but because I am not sure every cup of tea is bent towards the gang-based culture of London. Cornish also does not force it into a stylised American version of what we believe gang culture to be. I am amazed at the amount of research and dedication his writing clearly involved, but it has paid off – a truly ridiculous, yet perfectly realistic, intelligent feat of great cinematic ability. I genuinely can’t wait to find out what he writes next. I only hope the destruction of the British Film Council doesn’t quash this talent before it has truly begun to flourish.