a critiQal film review Attack the Block (2011)

Plot: South London teenagers are forced to defend their neighborhood from savage alien monsters. It turns a London housing estate into a sci-fi playground. A tower block into a fortress under siege. And teenage street kids into heroes. It’s inner city versus outer space.

656 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 16s)

When trying to figure out what movie to watch for today’s review, we stumbled across a film we had heard of, but never got around to checking out: Attack the Block. Thinking it was a kind of cross between Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Small Soldiers (1998) (Brit-com mixed with cheesy, kid-friendly, villains), we decided to give it a try.

Would Attack the Block live up to our (somewhat) low expectations? Or should we have just bypassed this flop instead?

John Boyega (the guy from Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)) leads a stellar cast in Attack the Block. As a tough street punk in South London, Boyega’s (and his fellow cast members) accent may initially sound like gibberish, but, like with Snatch, it starts making a bit more sense the longer the viewer is exposed to it. Accent aside, this is a tough role for Boyega to jump into, and yet he manages to make this terror of a street punk into a likable fellow as the film goes by. That’s pretty impressive, especially given his lack of screen time prior to this film.

The rest of the cast is just as much on point in Attack the Block as Boyega is. While none of the other kids are quite as recognizable as Boyega, They all give it their all and turn in rock solid performances. Jodie Whitaker, especially, has a difficult role, and yet she turns in as good of a performance as any in the cast. Nick Frost pops up as well, but he just quite isn’t the same without his on-screen buddy Simon Pegg, so the viewer may look at his role as a bit of a disappointment.

For a first-time director, Joe Cornish definitely picked a hard film to sell to an audience with Attack the Block. How many people were turned away, as they couldn’t get behind a premise that pitted street thugs against aliens? Yet, if they had given it a chance, they could have discovered this hidden gem for themselves. Cornish does a brilliant job of using Whittaker’s character as the audience’s point of view. At the beginning of the film she gets mugged by these street toughs (as the viewer expects), yet later on discovers there’s more to them than just their outward appearance, and eventually relies on them – and even aids them – during the alien invasion.

That makes Attack the Block a definite switch-up from your typical action flick. By silently acknowledging the built-in attitude towards street punks the audience will most likely have, then slowly turning these punks into heroes… Well, that’s an approach that easily could have failed – but under Cornish’s direction, it succeeds.

Thankfully, there’s more to the film than just turning the audience’s views around. Thanks to liberal doses of action and comedy, all set at a brisk pace, Attack the Block just flies through it’s running time, and gives viewers a decent ending as well.

OK, so the aliens aren’t all that good. When the first alien appears, it looks to be made of rubber, and the viewer is disappointed right from the start. However, as the later aliens are more black fuzzballs with glow-in-the-dark teeth and sharp claws, it’s less obvious they are mere props. True, they don’t really give off the creepy vibe like the alien species in ALIENS, but their ferocity and lack of detail actually aids in making them seem more of a threat to the characters on-screen.

With a stellar cast led by a breakout performance by John Boyega, a unique twist to the typical action/horror flick, and a smart blend of action and humor, Attack the Block is a hidden gem that’s worth a look. Forget that it barely made any money at the box office. Check it out today, and see if you aren’t just as pleasantly surprised as we were…although you might want to turn on the subtitles until you get familiar with the accents.

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