'Attack the Block' Review - Inner City v. Outer Space

Joe Cornish (2nd from left) answers a question from ATB panel moderator, Chris Gore (far left) at Comic-Con International

Edgar Wright on being an Executive Producer at a Los Angeles Film Festival screening of Attack the Block:

“When we started, I didn’t really know what an Executive Producer did. As it turns out, not a lot.”

You could have fooled me. I don’t know how much time he spent on the set, but to date, I have seen the film in its entirety twice (at the aforementioned LAFF and a free screening at the New Beverly on the Fourth of July), and been to one ATB promotional event (Comic-Con International), and each time, Wright has been right there with Joe Cornish – the film’s director, and his co-writer on Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Tintin movie and Ant-Man for Marvel Studios/Disney – to promote Cornish’s directorial debut.

From left: John Boyega, Joe Cornish, and Edgar Wright invade San Diego

He’s not just protecting his investment with strategic appearances - there’s a lot to crow about where Attack the Block is concerned. Much like Super 8 (which struck a chord with audiences earlier this summer), Attack the Block harkens back to the style of creature features that was so popular in the 80’s. As a matter of fact, considering both films are about a bunch of teens and ‘tweens fighting an alien invasion, one could say the relationship between Super 8 and ATB is much like that of Gremlins and Critters. The latter is a less polite, harder edged version of the former – and in the absence of major studio money, Critters and ATB had to be incredibly inventive, especially when it came to special effects.  Also, all four films take more than a few cues from John Sayles’ brilliant, yet unproduced, sci-fi/action thriller, Night Skies.

From left: Leeon Jones (Jerome), Simon Howard (Biggz), John Boyega (Moses), Alex Esmail (Pest) and Franz Drameh (Dennis)

The difference between the films can be most easily found in one of the advertising slogans for ATB: Inner City vs. Outer Space. Instead of a group of fresh-faced, mid-Western cherubs trying to escape an extra-terrestrial threat and save the town, the kids in ATB simply take sadistic delight in the freedom to beat the holy hell out of something, anything, with whatever weapons they’ve been able to hide from their parents. In what is sure to be a breakout performance, John Boyega plays Moses – a troubled teen, and leader of a small gang of young thugs living in a South London housing block. In the middle of a committing a mugging, they are interrupted by a projectile from space, which smashes into a Mercedes parked on the street. While rooting through the wreckage, Moses is attacked by an alien – and though his injuries amount to a couple of scratches, like a lot of teenage boys, he simply won’t let it go. His actions put his friends, and his neighborhood, squarely in the crosshairs of an alien invasion.

Although Boyega’s performance is both excellent and noteworthy, his co-stars turn in great performances as well – especially when you take into account that Boyega and the other young actors are first timers. Alex Esmail turns in a nice supporting performance as Pest, Moses’ second in command and the gang’s pyrotechnics expert (that is to say, he has a closet full of illegal fireworks). He has the bulk of the funny lines, and delivers them in a way that manages to be over-the-top, but true to the moment, and not jokey at all. As a stoner who ends up on the receiving end of a lot of the film’s comedic violence, Luke Treadaway is also excellent, and he even manages to hold his own with (star of many an Edgar Wright production) Nick Frost in several key scenes.

Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) as Ron, proprietor of Ron's Weed Room

Visually, it’s a lot of fun, too. While Super 8 looks like a movie that’s set in the 80’s, but still looks as if it were produced in 2011, ATB is produced in 2011, takes place in the present, and looks as if it could be an undiscovered 80’s gem, nestled somewhere in the Horror section of an old VHS rental shop. That is not to say that it looks cheap. It’s that, back then, computers didn’t do much of the heavy lifting, so everything had a visceral quality, mainly because the vast majority of effects were practical (i.e. not composed in a computer). In other words, the monsters are actually guys in suits – which to me, lends itself to more natural reactions from the actors.

Ron: "It looks like there was a party at the zoo, and a gorilla ****** a fish..."

Though it isn’t so much a critique as it is a very minor caveat: many of the characters have heavy accents and use a lot of slang. To me, it was a lot like The Commitments, or even the first few episodes of The Wire – yes, there are accents and argots to get used to, but it only takes a couple minutes. And ultimately, if you can’t get altogether used to it, remember – it’s an action movie. If you want depth, you’re kind of missing the point.

Finally! This festival darling is in theaters as of July 29th

Watch the official trailer here. The good news is that Attack the Block starts July 29th (tomorrow). The bad news is that it’s in only one theater. However, that one theater is Arclight Hollywood, so with any luck, enough people will see it, and the good word on this film will continue to spread… like a hoard of space monsters who’ve been brushing their teeth with blue anti-freeze.

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