Shortly after I first moved to London a few weeks ago when AntBuoy and I were paying one of our frequent visits to the cinema we were amused to see a trailer for this film, directed by Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe fame. It was one of those where-the-heck-did-this-come-from moments that leaves you wondering if what what you’ve just seen was insultingly atrocious or unremittingly brilliant. More trips to see films meant we saw the trailer again and again and each time found ourselves wanting to see the film more and more not least because we are now fully paid up residents of south-east London where the film is set even if Ladywell isn’t quite as rough as the area in the film. With the film garnering some pretty positive critical reaction it was decided.
It was only a matter of time before I mentioned this film but it strikes me that Shaun of the Dead is proving itself more and more to be just about the most influential British comedy of the last decade. This film is produced by the same people and even borrows Nick Frost for good measure but, other than its London setting, the similarities end there. Shaun of the Dead was a comedy first and a horror second but it’s the other way round for Attack the Block. The film opens with a gang of hoodies mugging a nurse, a scene AntBuoy and I missed due to our being late to the screening and we were only just in time to see the gang finish dealing with a violent visitor from space that happens to crash land nearby. The boys, pumped by their kill, cart the intergalactic corpse around showing it off and later storing it in a drug dealer’s secure growing room. Before you know it a whole host of the meances come shooting down from the sky and so begins a council estate turf war with a difference.
As directorial debuts go it’s a very confident one and Cornish manages to nail both critical points. His extensive research into south London youth culture shows with a script loaded with gangsta speak that the young cast deliver with total authenticity that despite the early mugging encourages you to like and root for the lads. Secondly there is the question of the creatures, always a tricky one and the amount of time they spend on screen clearly visible could have been very dangerous but their design is superb, bear-like hairy beasts with no eyes and brilliantly glow-in-the-dark teeth, it’s the blackness that really succeeds though. As one boy observes ‘That’s the blackest black I’ve ever seen.’ No kidding, even in well lit environments it’s tough to see the shape of them properly which makes them all the scarier.
If you’re expecting a spoof you might be disappointed because Attack the Block is firmly routed in the action thriller genre with dynamic camerawork, lightning fast chase scenes, real scares, bangs and kills. Set to a pumping bass heavy soundtrack that couldn’t be more appropriate the action whizzes along with style and the inevitable gory bits are effective. It’s not up there with the upper echelons of the genre but it’s tense and far from predictable. If you think these characters are safe just because they’re kids, don’t.
But there’s comedy too of course and half of it is just in the dialogue that celebrates the gutsy teen spirit of hoody culture in a way that might give Daily Mail readers something to think about. The foil comes in the form of some of the supporting cast, including Luke Treadaway’s hilarious posh stoner and Jodie Whittaker’s victim. Nick Frost takes a perhaps sensible backseat role and feels like an old sage, veteran to this sort of thing giving the youngsters a chance to flex their acting muscles. And they all do a fine job, Alex Esmail’s Pest steals most scenes but John Boyega gets the most plaudits as gang leader Moses, playing the part quietly with restraint that shouts at you about hiddden character depth.
It won’t supplant Shaun of the Dead as the king of horror comedy but Attack the Block comes as a really pleasant surprise nonethless. Not overlong or fussed with unnecessary side plots and with a few points to make about society and youth the film rattles along excellently offering mroe entertainment value than many of its big budget peers.