It’s all far too easy and disparaging, to describe Attack the Block as Shaun of the Dead meets Kid/Adulthood as directed by John Carpenter. Cult-hero Joe Cornish’s directorial debut has a lot more meat to its bone to be lumbered with such a lazy description. Following the efforts of a group of young hoodies aided by Jodie Whittaker’s mugging-victim turned accomplice, the film portrays their efforts in trying to fend ‘aliens’ (remarkably, played by parkour expert Terry Notary and not superimposed with CGI) from their tower block.
The film has its roots much more in action and survival-horrors than comedy, despite the presence of staple Nick Frost. The creatures may appear slightly basically designed but that shouldn’t fool you into a false sense of security. Their fluorescent teeth only serve to illuminate their menace as they seemingly aim to exact revenge on the kids, and leader Moses in particular, for beating one of their females to death, helping to elevate the film from being a bog-standard creature flick to a surprisingly nervy (and gory) watch, punctuated by one particular scene in which hoards climb up the tower proving especially effective.
Cornish has openly spoken about his admiration for sci-fi, evident by the tower block coming across like 2001-esque monolith, surrounded by urban decay rather than space. His insistence that the kids’ slang is akin to a present-day Nadsat or Klingon may well be a rather ambitious, their slang terms being no more otherworldly than say, upper class speech, yet the dialogue (and crucially the characters) never feels contrived. A mixed bunch of kids brought together by boredom and disillusion, there may be criticism that the audience never fully grow to sympathise with them, yet that’s never Cornish’s aim. It would’ve been too perfect for the hoodies to emerge as angels, halo and all, and this mixture of gritty realism with the fantastical set-pieces is fused in a manner which belies the fact that this is his first feature film.
Indeed, the characters which struggle most are Whittaker’s Sam who is reduced to a mere passenger as the film progresses and Frost’s Ron, who is barely stretched beyond offering the odd one-liner. Further conspicuous by their absence are the other residents of the block and it is rather bizarre that no-one seems to spot these extra-terrestrials crash landing in the park and street, amongst other places. These only serve to be minor quibbles however, in what proves to be an engrossing view all round, and the fact that it seems to end too quickly only demonstrates its quality.
Joe Cornish, as Richard Ayoade with Submarine before him, has made the transition to film worryingly comfortably, and Attack The Block is what Battle: Los Angeles could’ve been- major circumstances and locations aside. If Cornish continues in this vein, he and Duncan Jones could ensure that Britain’s horror and sci-fi scene is in rude health, and how long has it been since that has been said?