I finally got to see the love fest of SXSW before it plays the L.A. Film Festival. Attack the Block is a great midnight movie-style indie movie. It’s not Detention and it’s no Hobo with a Shotgun, but it’s an extremely well done, fun film.
Block gets started right away with a gang of teens led by Moses (John Boyega) mugging Sam (Jodie Whittaker). They’re interrupted by an alien crash landing on a car, so they hunt it down and kill it. Then the bigger creatures invade and the gang has to fend off the attack from their apartment building, in siege-style gory action.
Writer/director Joe Cornish knows how to structure these types of thrillers. He finds many different confined spaces for the kids to hole up in until they’re forced to fight off a creature or two or twenty. Cornish also stages many narrow escapes with the creatures right behind the heroes. Of course there are other humans against Moses’ gang, one older and some even younger.
Most importantly, Cornish nails the character building scenes in between. This is where we get to know the individual gang members, where they’re forced to form an uneasy bond with Sam and work out the issues of their encounter earlier that night. The film is sincere while the characters may take an irreverent view of having to reveal their emotional issues. Questions about Sam’s boyfriend are particularly insightful.
The creature design is a triumph. The initial alien looks like a puppet with Giger-esque qualities. The main aliens may be CGI but it’s a design that hides its CGI-ness. It never looks like they were tennis balls that become aliens later. They could have come from space, and they keep coming relentlessly.
The language is very British but only to the extent that Trainspotting or even Shaun of the Dead is. There were a few lines I didn’t get, but I’ll just assume they were awesome. The ones I did get were references to “Narutu,” a poignant (though incorrect) theory of gentrification and a comparison to 28 Days Later. It makes sense that those are their references. And all their prepaid cell phones are running out. That’s not an issue we have in American movies and it sets another deadline for suspense.
A John Carpenter-esque score completes the tone of a hardcore shoestring yet totally effective action-horror. Those are the kinds of indie movies we want to see, where it’s the ideas that stand out. We’re lucky to have so many genre-bending homage movies this year.