It’s late so I’ll try and be brief…
Just got back from seeing Attack the Block and it is hands-down the best film I’ve seen this year and probably the best I’ve seen since Dark Knight (high praise indeed from me, Batman being tantamount to Jesus to me). It also confirms a few of my theories about films and filmmakers I have held for a while now.
The premise is simple, Aliens invade an estate in South London sadly right next to a bunch Yoofs who are drawn into a fierce battle for survival on their home turf against the creatures. The best plots are the simplest, troo fact blud, and whilst the plot is simple it is loaded with brilliant dialogue, well-rounded and original characters and spectacular set pieces. The main ‘gimmick’ of the film is the setting and, by extension, the characters within. Our leads, a group five Yoofs/Hoodies/societies forgotten, are introduced by mugging a young woman on her way home (not an endearing start) and depicted as everything the far right fear; they carry knives, wear hoodies, mug people, talk funny and kill extra terrestrial creatures with a manic fervour. As such you are not immediately placed in a position where sympathy for them is key, which is all the more alarming when it is. As events take more brutal turns, it is genuinely distressing as you realise they really are just kids and the only ‘adults’ are far more stupid and useless than you assume the two nine-year olds who appear early on will be. These characters are not clichés and are very real and complex but without having to overstate how complex they are. At equal moments they are Mummies boys, ruthless thugs, scared kids, Lotharios and warriors. John Boyega as the lead gang member, Moses, is a fantastic find and should have a long and succesful career if he stays that good. In fact the only missed note is the one actor people will know. Nick Frost’s character seems tacked on and unnecessary, a bone thrown to mates/executives for an audience ‘draw’. Completely pointless and not that different from every other character he’s played. All these characters and the setting are introduced pretty much en medias res with nary more than cursory bits of dialogue or small moments to flesh them out. But flesh them out it does and you enter into their world gladly.
Being whiter than an Albino’s cricket shirt, this initial premise is a challenging one for me (and no doubt half the audience) as I know nothing about the type of character that populates this film, for someone with a very middle-class accent the language is as Alien as the creatures to me and their values and morals are initially laid out as being reprehensible to someone as poncey and foppish as myself but all assumptions are swiftly put on their head and confronting the issue that most people (like me) are afraid of approaching head-on is abandoned in favour of the story and action while that particular subtext is left to bubble away underneath making you absorb it in a much neater way than drumming you over the head with it. It is sort of tackled toward the end but not ham handedly and fairly poignantly too. Either way it is a testament to the script that this works wholly as an action/horror film but there is social commentary throughout. For this reason alone it should be a stone cold classic by the time it finishes at the cinema.
Now, this brings me onto the Writer/Director, a Mr Joe Cornish. Someone who is also pretty white and ‘middle-class’. I have been a fan of Adam & Joe since I was very young, their childish antics on Stuffe and then the Adam & Joe show were hilarious to a kid, yet too easily dismissed as ‘childish’ (like I just did). I had no idea Cornish had schemes of this type till I found out he and Edgar Wright were writing Spielberg’s next film, Tintin (don’t get me started). Now all of a sudden he has a big Blockbuster (snort snort) all of his own out in cinemas. This is where I digress and get on my high horse – regular readers will be used to this by now –
Similar to Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish is clearly a movie fan, a Nerd if you will, and really understands the language and nature of film, proved by this feature. Now, Along with things like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, etc, why is no one picking up on the fact the young blood is where it’s at? When Spielberg and Lucas et al began their careers they were haled as the movies brats creating big summer blockbusters and for some unknown reason are still being given a free ride. Lucas has COMPLETELY sold out and taken a paddle up shit creek, Spielberg hasn’t made a film of quality since Minority Report, Kubrick’s dead, Coppola’s vanished and whilst I know many consider this sacrilege – particularly men – but I’ve never been fussed with Scorsese. And yet, And YET. Considering the travesty Spielberg inflicted on us not so long ago and the pile of rotting, festering, horse giblets that’s squirts of various internal juices class as Star Wars canon these days we should be welcoming new blood with open arms and God knows, films like Attack the Block are far more current and interesting and equally as cinematic as anything the old guard had to offer. I say let the old guard die and give the young ones the keys to the castle, we seem to be getting back to the old studio system of film making and that would be very bad. I noted the beginning of the film was laden with sponsors, one of which was the, now dead, UK Film Council. Considering two of the last three Best Picture Academy Award winning films were British populated/directed/filmed movies and were part funded by the UK Film Council, this seems indicative of an industry unwilling to let go of one of their biggest cash cows despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. To their future cost, I will add.
– Okay, off my high horse.
Attack the Block reminds me of the hardcore, balls-to-the-wall, fast and furious, gore splattered, fun house rides that were the action movies from the 80’s. The cinematography shouts it. The use of black is fantastic as is the use of smoke for nail-biting effect. Halos of golden light cast eerie shadows over play parks and stairwells and whilst gore is liberal it is not gratuitous or overly relished. The dialogue (again) is snappy and instantly quotable once you get behind it, chase scenes and set pieces, particularly the fantastic slow-mo finale, are unashamed cinematic and the Aliens. Oh the Aliens. A film like this can rise or fall based on its ‘Creature’ and here Cornish really hit the nail on the head. As opposed to having lithe, glossy killing machines or fleshy, slithery monsters Cornish ‘Bucks’ the trend (one for the 6music fans there) by having his Aliens more like feral beasts. The eyeless wolf-like Aliens with dense, pitch black fur and fluorescent jaws are unique and truly eerie and make the shocks all the more palpable. Cornish also subscribes to the wise rule of a good monster movie, don’t give them the money shot too early, if at all. The camera constantly shies away from a wide view, keeping them to the shadows or those horrid jaws in close up, something John Landis used to great effect.
If I had to pigeon-hole it, it sits somewhere as a cross between Assault on Precinct 13 (the original) and American Werewolf in London but is much, much more. Cornish should be proud of his first feature and if this is his opening gambit I look forward to what I hope will be a long cinematic career. This particular film is going on the top of my birthday DVD list. I highly recommend this film to everyone and I mean everyone. Whether you want to sit through it so you can say you really understand the youth of today and are all down with that shiz blud or because you just want to see a just fucking ace action horror flick this is an A+, Gold star, 10 out of 10, classic. It will still probably be on at the cinema a little while longer and you should certainly part with your hard-earned to help support a British film and a burgeoning cinematic talent.