MacGuffin Film Review – Attack the Block

Film Review – Attack the Block

Dear Stateside Readers,

I am sorry that I am about to tell you some things about a film that you may not be able to watch for awhile. It’s an unfortunate situation that Attack the Block has no U.S. release date yet. But, I invite you to think of it this way: we anticipate lots of films that are potentially far-off, chatting for months on end about whether they might be good when all is said and done. With this film, you will know for sure that your anticipation won’t end in disappointment. Because I am here to let you know that Attack the Block is good. Very good. Delightfully good.

Regular readers/viewers might know that, in general, I prefer my films compact. Some grand epics do it for me, but a swift blast of a movie is what I’d rather see, nine times out of ten. Attack the Block, from writer/directer Joe Cornish and various producers including the great Edgar Wright, absolutely embodies that. Clocking in at 88 minutes with credits, every single second moves our story along, and every single second entertains. Neither momentum nor style ever lags. It sucked me and carried me with a grin on my face from frame one to roll credits.

On Guy Fawkes Night in a South London council estate, a band of five teenage wannabe thugs finds their attempt at mugging a woman walking alone interrupted. Some sort of something careens from the sky into a nearby parked car, crashing through its roof. Upon ill-advised inspection, this something turns out to be a nasty creature, which runs off. Making another great (terrible) decision, the group’s leader, Moses (John Boyega) chases the thing down, intent on killing it. And in the first of many nice moments in the film that go against genre convention…he does. He kills it dead.

It takes the boys little time to realize that’s not some rabid dog they’ve vanquished. Moses straps the grimy, slimy thing to his back, and they do the only thing that seems to make sense: take it to be examined by a drug dealer named Ron (the always enjoyable Nick Frost), who watches a lot of National Geographic, apparently. When Ron doesn’t recognize the creature, they all decide (refreshingly quickly) that it must be an alien. They won’t have much time to contemplate how they can make money off the discovery, though…because some more aliens are on the way to claim this one. And they aren’t so much dog-sized, grey, and slimy as they are lion-sized, ferocious, pitch-black creatures with glowing blue teeth and an intense desire to kill.

Here’s where Attack the Block really started to impress me. Never missing a chance for a splash of style or a quick visual joke, the sequence of the boys rushing their apartments for what weapons they can scrounge up and heading out to face the onslaught is easily the best of any such “readying for battle” montages I’ve ever seen. Usually these types of sequences are little more than necessary transitions; maybe we get to “ooh” and “aah” at a really big gun. This one, besides operating with a rhythm, rush, and soundtrack that are all pitch-perfect for getting the audience pumped, establishes just what sort of giant labyrinth the building the boys live in really is (all those staircases!) and give us precious knowledge of each of them as individuals. Moments such as Pest promising his mom he’ll be right back, Dennis arguing with his dad over whether he has to take the dog, and Moses knowing full well that his apartment will be empty take seconds, but are full of meaning.

Every sequence in Attack the Block is like this, wringing all possible amounts of real care for its characters out of every opportunity, without ever slowing down or sacrificing an ounce of swagger. We’re introduced to some more characters who populate the towering apartment building: gangster Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter); pothead Brewis (Luke Treadaway); two kids who desperately want to get in with the older boys and be called “Probs” and “Mayhem”; the corresponding group of teen girls our boys hang out with; and Sam (Jodie Whittaker), who we already met, when the boys tried to mug her. Paths collide and diverge as aliens chase and are chased, and each action sequence is more creative than the last. The stakes feel real, because the characters feel real. And sure, the low-budget nature of the film means that during actual combat with an alien, we get a lot of creative editing. It never matters. In arguably the most effective scene of the film, we can hardly see a damn thing, because the boys have used fireworks (Guy Fawkes Night, remember) to fill a hallway with smoke. This is not to say that the aliens don’t look good—they do, and so does the film itself. Impressively good.

This movie is fun fun fun. It deftly blends real humor, well-paced action, characters we care about, a dash of gore, plenty of tension, and a pretty kick-ass soundtrack, creating something damn near perfect. This is the sort of film where, because of the cast being made up largely of teenagers and the basic-sounding genre plot, people might say it’s better than it has a right to be. Trust me, Attack the Block has every right to be this good. This is what this kind of movie should be about: telling its story with care and with a punch, and doing so with unquestioning style.

Final Grade: A

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