The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Attack the Block

Reviewed by Jim Holden.

Director Joe Cornish
Length 88 mins
Certificate 15 / TBA
Rating ******----
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article Trailer.

Although the main influences behind Joe Cornish's directorial debut are clearly American (from Ghostbusters and Gremlins [both 1984] to Assault on Precinct 13 [1976]), Attack the Block is a very British teen/sci-fi/horror hybrid, striving to offer a cross-section of British culture, and coming with a characteristically British sense of humour to boot.

Set during one evening, the film opens when trainee nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is mugged by a teenage gang of petty criminals, led by Moses (John Boyega). These youths then witness something crash-landing nearby, investigate, and see a creature run into a shed. Pride takes over as Moses and his mates kill the creature, before parading it around the block to show their local drug dealer (Nick Frost). This is just the start, however. More of these creatures (in fact aliens) land in the vicinity and begin searching for their recently-deceased comrade; what follows is a fast-paced, tense game of cat-and-mouse between Sam, the kids, the middle-class stoner and comic foil Brewis (Luke Treadaway), and a pack of very nasty aliens.

Attack the Block is a film that I really wanted to embrace, since it is so obviously a labour of love for Cornish, the comedian and broadcaster made famous by The Adam and Joe Show. However, for all the film’s merits - and there are many, from the naturalistic banter between the gang to the impressively well-paced chase sequences - the film gives off a lingering sense of repetition, relies on a cul-de-sac of a plot, and expresses some rather muddled politics.

Unsurprisingly, the main moral grey area comes with how we are supposed to feel towards Moses and the gang. It would take an extremely difficult balancing act to get us to empathise with characters who behave the way these boys do during the opening, even if they do go on to be heroic; above all, it would require more attention to the complexities of their motivations and social context than Cornish seems willing to provide. Finally, as Kim Newman puts it, “you can't mug a nurse then expect us to see you as the new Goonies”.

The marketing of the film is interesting, attempting to push the film onto a real cross-section of audiences. Produced by Nira Park, Britain’s go-to producer of ‘indie’ comedies with appeal across the pond (Shaun of the Dead [2004], Paul [2011]), the film also strives to appeal to a Kidulthood (2006) youth market, including the working class teenagers which are its focus. This mixture is something to welcome, and the film certainly treats the kids with respect (indeed, it is the police who become the villains of the piece). This is something I will come back to in my Alternate Take: the extent to which the movie desires to be a (loose) allegory of modern Britain, seen from the point of view of an inner-city estate.

Yet, while Attack the Block is an intriguing, smart and enjoyable addition to an increasing pool of British genre films, it's just a shame it doesn’t more fully explore some of the themes it is so keen to bring up.

This review was published on May 20, 2011.

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