Under the Radar?: “Attack the Block”


“Attack the Block” is a British sic-fi/action adventure film from earlier this year. It’s the story of a gang of young street punks who, after robbing a woman of her purse, are nearly struck by a meteorite. When they investigate the car it landed on, they discover an alien life form. There’s a brief struggle with the creature where the leader of the gang, Moses, gets badly scratched. Vowing revenge, the boys all chase the creature down and beat it to death.

What they don’t know is that the creature is just the first of many – the invasion has begun.

After a brief period where the young boys drag the alien carcass around their neighborhood, showing it off victoriously, the meteorites begin to fall. The boys rush out to confront the creatures, but discover that the creatures falling now are much tougher than first one they faced. Realizing the severity of the situation, the boys realize what they need to do is to get back to their home turf. They need to get back to their building and defend their block.

“Block” is the first movie from director Joe Cornish, and he does a great job here. He does a superb job of pacing the film. The movie wastes absolutely no time in getting into the action, and once it gets started it doesn’t let up. Even when nothing is happening, Cornish infuses the brief downtimes with intense character moments and insanely cool dialogue.

He also does a great job with the young cast. John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, and Simon Howard are great as the gang members. But better than their performances is how Cornish handles them as characters. The boys do do heroic things, but Cornish never lets us forget that they’re really young punks. They’re brave, they’re tough, and they’re loyal, but we’re frequently reminded that they’re hooligans.

But the best thing Cornish does is to create realistic, compelling, small scale action sequences. It’s obvious he was working with a constrained budget, so he keeps the creature design simplistic. I’m not implying they’re bad -they’re not, they’re fine – but it’s apparent they chose a cost effective design. It’s the way the kids battle against them that stands out. The heroes flee on mopeds, in stolen cars, hide in dumpsters, use makeshift weapons, shoot fireworks. Everything seems relatively… credible. They take what could have been a weakness of the film (not being able to afford big special effects) and turn it into a strength by getting creative with their limited resources, but at the same time keeping the film grounded in its portrayal of how this street gang would defend their home.

Skillful directing, a script loaded with bad ass dialogue (though sometimes the accents can render it unintelligible), excellent action, good character development and a young cast that does a great job make “Attack the Block” a highly enjoyable movie to watch.

A- easily recommendable.


24 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “Attack the Block”

  1. Absolutely adore the film. Gave me some proper laugh out loud moments, snorts and sniggers. I did think whether international audiences would ‘get’ the dialogue! There’s a lot of Brit/London slang.

  2. For the most part, I can “get” the slang if I can hear it.

    Even though it’s english, if words are used in a way you’re not accustomed to… rapidly… with an accent. At times it can just be like listening to a foreign language you just dont even know what they said.

    Worth working through though, for sure. Excellent flick!

  3. Jaina’s right. This is a funny flik. The thought that really young, unarmed Brit kids from the “estate” (known here as the projects) are fighting dangerous alien beings is a hoot. Over here they’d all pull out Tek 9’s and blow them to smithereens. Thought it one of the summer’s better fliks.

    • Ouuhhggkkccc.

      I may need to revise my remake rules. Previously, one of my rules has been Foreign films are fair game. Perhaps I should amend it to be foreign *language *films. Because when I heard that, I made the noise above.

  4. Easily a top five pick for me. I’m only pissed that it took me so long to see it, and that I’ve still only watched it twice.

    I remember seven years ago when I bought Shaun of the Dead on DVD (the British release) and screening it for my friends in my college dorm room on my region free DVD player. Specifically I remember the feeling that as we all fell under the film’s spell, we were at the ground floor of something really special; to this day I consider Shaun one of the best films of its decade and an incredibly influential, iconic film in contemporary cinema.

    I’m bringing all of this up because I got the exact same feeling watching Attack the Block with my wife. This film is the definition of “something special”. Attack the Block is the sort of exciting film that reminds you why you like films in the first place, that energetic, fresh, original offering from sources unheard of that completely arrests your attention and announces itself as a picture that must be seen.

    It’s also a bally movie. Starting things off by having a gang of mostly black hoodlums rob a white nurse is gutsy on its own, but Cornish really doesn’t do much to make the gang that sympathetic at first. Even their assault on the first alien turns us against them. So the fact that we all end up feeling their various turnabouts and that we all end up in their corner is pretty impressive. Hell, my wife wasn’t feeling the movie at all until the other aliens started to land– she really didn’t like any of the teens at first. It’s a testament to how good Cornish and his cast are that she rooted for them in the end.

    And then there’s the social commentary. I think there’s a byline here about the sort of violence that kids growing up in impoverished areas of the world are exposed to on a daily basis; the aliens just represent the extreme end of that danger, of course, but Attack the Block definitely touches on that as well as issues of prejudice.

    I love everything about this movie. I love the teens, especially Boyega. I love the aesthetic. I love the cinematography and Cornish’ vision. I love the design of the aliens, immensely. I can only express puzzlement that Attack the Block didn’t find a bigger audience on release and still doesn’t seem to have found much of a wide audience since. What the hell, people?

    • Well, remember man. Americans can barely support their OWN good movies, forget foreign imports. Adam Sandler could video tape himself sleeping and it would make $50mil, but watch the descendants rake in crappola.

      It can be frustrating at times.

      Great point about how Cornish doesn’t sell the kids out by actually making them sweethearts or some such. He does give Moses a tiny bit of softening at the end when we see in his apartment. But its such a more interesting story with the kids as punks. It really is. I’m pretty sure it makes my top ten of this year (I havent formally counted or anything), but I dont know where it will settle for me all time.

      Meanwhile…. I’ll just say it, it’s ok, you and I duke it out pretty well… I think Shaun of the Dead is overrated. Maybe we can add that to our “Great Debates” that we’ve yet to have, but… dont get me wrong. I liked it. I thought it was very good. But I woke up one day and all these people were calling it GREAT and I was like Shaun of the Dead?

      • Shaun of the Dead overrated?! WTF! I think we do need a debate on this one!

        It’s funny, I think this film was officially released worldwide just after we had the riots going off London across the country. People thought this film was the perfect commentary on the goings on.

      • Yup. I said it. I know….

        Frankly, not being from Britain, I drew no parallels to any riots or anything.

        However, even with a level of social commentary (and riots or no, that was a always evident) I never saw it as a movie that would make people say “Shaun of the Dead overrated?! WTF!” LOL πŸ˜€

      • Like I point out in my review, most films like this boast a protagonist who’s a generally decent person on their own. The kids here are more likely to mug you and run away. Just changing their circumstances gives the film a wholly original perspective, which I think helps it stand out and distinguish itself from the crowd.

        I think it says a lot that we (the audience as well as Sam) care about Moses at the end. That apartment reveal is key to his character and I think it’s an important part of his heroic transformation. But we come to care about them even before then as they start to realize that they were wrong for attacking Sam and that they’re wrong in general for behaving like a pack of hoods. At the end of the day they’re just kids, kids who behave badly but kids nonetheless.

        As for Shaun, I’m with Ms. Jaina here. Respect and all that, bruv, but
        you’re nuts. En-Vee-Tee-Ess, nuts. I don’t even think subtext matters (though I agree on the connection to the riots), it’s clean, mastered, stylized filmmaking that displays Wright’s grip on his craft from the very beginning. File this under “great debates” indeed, amigo.

      • Yeah, I have to circle back to your review Andy. I wanted to… yet another one I saw you had put up and was dying to read it. But as I stated on the descendants, thats my new policy, so… Looking forward to checking it out.

        Listen, I’m certainly NOT saying Shaun isn’t good. Great, maybe even. But I dont see it rising to an all time great level film, and a lot of people – you two arent the only ones – seem to want to put it there, and I just dont see that.

        I’d say I’d revisit, and I will try soon. But in all honesty, my viewing schedule isnt giving me much time for revisits nowadays.

  5. In total agreement with you here. It is a proper miracle of economy. Reviewed it for themovieblog8.wordpress.com website and felt at the time that I was watching the long overdue resuscitation of the moribund British film landscape. Good on Joe Cornish. Very nice review.

    • “Miracle of Economy” that’s well put.

      I poked around a little on the movie blog, but couldnt find the review. You can feel free to put up a direct link if you like Rohan, its cool. I’d take a look.

      Meanwhile, thanks. Appreciate the kind words. πŸ™‚

  6. Hey Fog’s…I really like the sound of this! Being from London I certainly am familiar with the youth gangs or “The hood brigade” as we sarcasticly call them, along with the whole “Tower block turf” stuff, so it will be a good film to watch. I’ll let you know what I think when I’ve seen it. πŸ™‚

  7. Hey Fogs. Just had a watch and decided it is more of a youngsters movie for me but there were some funny bits in it and the acting, particularly getting the slang right and the attitudes and actions of the “Hoodies” is played out really well. I couldn’t watch it right to the end but it really would really appeal to the youngsters and is a typical portrayal of what goes on in and around some areas of London-apart from the Aliens!

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