Directed By Joe Cornish
Starring John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard and Nick Frost
For much of 2011, J.J. Abrams’ nostalgia-fest Super 8 has been championed as “the new Goonies”, but who’d have though that a British movie about a young, thieving gang of London street kids would claim that title? Attack The Block is the most deliriously entertaining Amblin Entertainment throwback and so much more: It’s loving a homage to the films of John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Steven Spielberg, Walter Hill and John Landis; a perfect gateway horror film for youngsters; the best monster movie in years and the tightest, smartest, funniest and most intensely enjoyable horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead.
When a gang of South London teens led by knife-wielding Moses (John Boyega) mug young nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) as she’s on her way home, something falls from the sky and flattens a car a few feet away from them. While Sam takes the opportunity to flee, minus her phone, purse and ring, Moses and the gang stick around to investigate. When an otherworldly creature bursts from the wreckage and attacks him, Moses chases the alien down and kills it, keeping its corpse as a trophy, believing it’ll fetch a lot of money. Before the night’s over, though, dozens more much larger and more ferocious alien monsters fall from the sky around the London, making a beeline for Moses and the gang and turning anyone caught inbetween into a savage, bloody mess. As the gang gears up to protect their block, the city’s first line of defense will be the kids they usually cross the street to avoid.
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It’s a tough prospect to ask people to identify with a gang of teen street kids, especially in England where they’re demonized in the papers every day, but writer/director Joe Cornish’s stroke of genius is in casting one of society’s (and most recent Brit movies’) familiar villains as the unlikely heroes, having us grow to love and root for them. And Cornish understands writing, character and structure like few screenwriters do, adding layers of thematic depth and social insight without resorting to cumbersome soapbox politics. He crafts three-dimensional, well developed characters without any expense to the lean, propulsive pace, showing us more about who these kids are in one quick, incredibly cool ‘gearing up’ montage than most movies can with forty pages of exposition.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s assembled a fantastic cast, either. Jodie Whittaker is excellent as nurse Sam, and the dynamic between her character and Moses is a great and well developed one. Nick Frost makes a small, but welcome appearance as a local drug dealer, but it’s the inexperienced, but natural teen cast that make the film. Young lead John Boyega has just been snatched up to star in Spike Lee’s new HBO drama series, and it’s no wonder why: Boyega’s a dead ringer for a young Denzel Washington and boasts a similar intensity and heaps of natural charisma and talent, making Moses an ambiguous hero who you can’t help but root for and cheer on. The same’s true of the rest of the young cast, and while Alex Esmail steals the most scenes as cocky, smart-mouthed Pest, the entire gang gets their own moments to shine. They’re kids you’ll grow to understand, empathise with and like a hell of a lot, lending even more impact when the bodycount starts to rise. It might have a tonne of incredible comedic moments, but it also juggles humour and horror with the same natural dexterity as An American Werewolf in London – it’s a monster movie that, while funny, doesn’t pull any punches and it’s all the more impressive for it.
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While it’s an impressive feat that Cornish crafts such well-drawn, fleshed out and likeable kid characters where so many more experienced filmmakers fail, even more stunning is his command of action and pace. Visceral, inherantly cool and immediately propulsive, Attack The Block is a movie with no dead weight. The tight, inventive camerawork is reminiscent of John Carpenter’s work (as is Basement Jaxx’s superb score), and the film’s visuals and action are the kind that remind you why you love movies: Cornish’s film is filled with moments of pure cinematic exhilaration, most notably a slo-mo chase scene in the last act that’s phenomenal. The design of the monsters puts the magic of cinema to use just as effectively. A subtle blending of man-in-suit practical effects and computer rotoscoping, with blacker-than-black fur and no facial features aside from a mouthful of luminescent blue teeth, Attack The Block’s aliens are one of the most visually distinctive and iconic movie creatures put to screen in a long time.
Attack The Block is a perfect film, and while it calls to mind such genre classics as Gremlins, Tremors, An American Werewolf in London and The Thing, or Amblin Entertainment kid-centric action-adventure movies like The Goonies and E.T., it carves its own unique identity, too, with its infectiously quotable street stang, amazing monster design, fantastic, memorable characters and iconic visuals. It’s an instant cult classic, and doesn’t just mark Joe Cornish as the most exciting Brit film talent since his pal Edgar Wright first burst onto the scene, but delivers the best damn monster movie in years, too.
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The movie hits home video courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment and the Blu-ray arrives with a fantastic HD treatment and stunning audio which caters equally well to the films’ slang-laced dialogue, the alien creatures’ piercing screeches and Basement Jaxx’s amazing score.
There’s also a stack of special features which dispense with the usual padding and promotional crap that usually litters DVDs and opts to deliver a tonne of funny, informative and amazingly entertaining behind the scenes info:
Writer/Director Joe Cornish and executive producer Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead/Scott Pilgrim fame) provide a superb commentary for the film. Cornish and long-time pal and collaborator Adam Buxton have, amongst other comedy projects, been on the air for years as hosts of their own radio show, so it’s no surprise that he’s an eloquent, funny and entertaining speaker, as well as a font of film knowledge. As well as chatting about the movie’s origins and inspirations, he and Wright turn the commentary into an incredibly funny and interesting insight into the perks and pitfalls of making your first feature. It’s a must-listen.
Continuing the commentary love, Cornish gets together with the young cast of the film for another great track to talk about how they got into acting, their on-set experiences and their thoughts on DVD commentaries.
Cornish is joined by adult members of the cast Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker and Luke Treadaway. Though despite the ‘senior commentary’ label, young actors John Boyega, Alex Esmail and Franz Drameh sit in for this track, too. It’s another amazingly fun listen, filled with plenty of light-hearted banter, gags and interesting conversation.
An hour-long behind the scenes documentary that’s free from promotional fluff and full of interesting glimpses into the filmmaking process and plenty of hilarious, candid tomfoolery.
Another feature that’s all fun insight and no fluff filler. It focuses on the film’s distinctive alien design as Cornish talks about the effects that bring the creatures to life on screen, while showing the rotoscoping techniques, CG augmentation and shows the film’s creature performer Terry Notary and the team doing their thing on-set.
Joe Cornish talks about an action scene involving Moses and Sam hanging from the side of the tower block and one involving Pest and an attack in a shop which didn’t end up getting filmed, but we do get to see the storyboards.
A short feature in which the young cast talk about their characters.
The teens all try their hand at freestyle rap while having fun on set.
Attack The Block is out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK now.
Click here to order the Blu-ray from Amazon.co.uk.