Attack the Block Review


John Boyega as Moses
Jodie Whittaker as Sam
Alex Esmail as Pest
Franz Drameh as Dennis
Leeon Jones as Jerome
Jumayn Hunter as Hi-Hatz
Luke Treadaway as Brewis
Nick Frost as Ron
Simon Howard as Biggz
Lee Long as Patrick
Sammy Williams as Probs
Michael Ajao as Mayhem
Terry Notary as The Creature
Paige Meade as Dimples
Danielle Vitalis as Tia
Maggie McCarthy as Margaret
Selom Awadzi as Tonks
Jermaine Smith as Beats
Haneen Hammou as Bubbles
Saffron Lashley as Roxanne
Natasha Jonas as Gloria
Gina Antwi as Dionne
Joey Ansah as Policeman 1
Adam Leese as Policeman 2

Directed by Joe Cornish


In a council estate in Southern London, a group of wayward youths led by a teenager named Moses (John Boyega) encounter an odd-looking creature… so they kill it. Soon, they are caught in the middle of an alien invasion with giant murderous creatures out to get them.

While his pals Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have taken American shores by storm over the last decade, Joe Cornish has mainly remained in the background, documenting the making of “Hot Fuzz” and collaborating with Wright on various screenplays. Most Brits will remember Cornish from “The Adam and Joe Show” in the mid-’90s, but few Americans will be familiar with him, which is why it’s fantastic seeing him step forward as a filmmaker with a film that’s as driven by a love for classic genre as “Shaun of the Dead.”

The film opens with a young woman (Jodie Whitaker) walking home from a train station before she’s confronted by a group of youths who steal her purse. The robbery is interrupted by something crashing down into a nearby car, and when the gang’s leader Moses, played by John Boyega, investigates, he’s attacked by a wild creature that the group follows into a park and kills. We soon learn that these thugs are all fairly young kids, acting tough because that’s what’s expected from them in the environment. They take the body of the creature back to “the block,” the projects in Southern London where they live, looking for help from a local drugdealer named Hi-Hatz, who wants to induct Moses into his gang. Before they can figure out what the creature is, the block is attacked by large eyeless creatures with bright neon blue teeth, vicious and unstoppable beasts with only one mission.

It’s good to bear in mind that making comparisons to “Shaun of the Dead” aren’t entirely fair because “Attack the Block” isn’t meant as a straight comedy even though it certainly has funny moments and characters. This is a true horror movie with real tension and terror and blood splatter galore, the influence of John Carpenter permeating every single frame as well as the synthy soundtrack that includes contributions by Basement Jaxx.

As much as Cornish is able to create a stylish-looking film, he isn’t quite as clever with the visuals as a director than his frequent collaborator Wright (one of the film’s executive producers), but he does a damn fine job making the film look great despite the limited setting, most of it taking place in and outside the council estates building. His team also does a great job with the stuff that genre fans love, including the creature design, mixing practical and CG FX and the amount of gore, and action pieces that make the film have far better production values than one might expect from a far more expensive film.

Cornish’s most impressive achievement has to be the casting of the kids, finding young unknown actors who are able to carry the movie, particularly John Boyega, who easily pulls off the role of action hero as Moses, and Alex Esmail, the film’s strongest comic relief as the mouthy kid known as Pest. The same can be said for the youngest members of the cast, two ‘tweens who demand to be called “Probs and Mayhem.” You’ll immediately find yourself rooting for this group of kids who come across like a tougher modern-day Goonies, and you’ll be just as shocked when not all of them survive the experience. If the protagonists were adults, this might not be so surprising, but it’s another bit of honest realism Cornish brings to the table that creates more emotion and motivation within the characters.

The cast is rounded out by more experienced actors such as Jodie Whitaker, best remembered for her role opposite Peter O’Toole in “Venus,” playing the young woman who is robbed by the kids but ends up having to help them take on the creatures. As might be expected, Nick Frost has some of the best scenes and one-liners as a drugdealer the kids turn to for help, along with his sidekick, a constantly-stoned academic visiting the projects to score drugs played by Luke Treadaway.

The writing is solid, although anyone unfamiliar with British street culture might have trouble understanding the characters at first. It’s not their British accents so much as it is that combined with their street slang – some of the jokes might get lost on Americans. As the film progresses and they slip “out of character” and act more like the kids they are, it becomes easier to follow their rapid-fire dialogue. Either way, it never impedes from the story.

It’s pretty odd seeing “Attack the Block” coming out the same summer as J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8,” another sci-fi movie involving far more innocent times and kids with an obvious influence from a different filmmaker. Ultimately, “Attack the Block” never tries to overstep its genre bounds, making it a far more fun and entertaining experience as well as a great counterpart to Wan and Whannell’s “Insidious” in the way it molds something new out of genre nostalgia.

The Bottom Line:
“Attack the Block” is quite a brilliant debut by Joe Cornish, the type of fun genre flick that we just don’t see that often anymore, one that has all the elements we expect from a summer blockbuster but also the energy and integrity that can only come from an independent filmmaker.

Attack the Block opens in select cities on Friday, July 29, with plans for nationwide expansion in August.