MOVIE REVIEW: Attack the Block
Starring John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker and Alex Esmail
Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block offers immeasurable genre pleasure by following a group of violent young ruffians from the South End of London battle an invading extraterrestrial species, protecting their decaying urban playground by any means necessary. But the instinctual ways in which Moses (John Boyega) and his multi-racial teenage crew recognize the threat, brandish weapons, and charge headfirst toward the descending aliens is also incredibly disturbing.
Fittingly, Attack the Block sees this B-movie duality as an entry point for an insanely smart critique of territorial aggression, specifically how unthinking machismo, instinct, and cultural references (Gangsta Rap, action movies, First-person shooter games) continuously fail the community’s greater good during moments of chaos. For Moses and his friends, what begins as a fun hunting expedition to kick some alien ass swiftly turns into a race for survival, and the transition happens as quickly as a death swipe from one of the intergalactic “guerilla wolves” stalking their every move. Hunter and hunted become virtually the same entity.
Since the theme of retribution is an essential motivating factor in Attack the Block, the nature of borders, real or imagined, drives Cornish’s subtext about escalating violence. After initially fighting the aliens street-to-street, Moses and his friend’s retreat to the cavernous sanctuary of “The Block”, dominated by the high-rise building where each character lives. Within these cramped hallways and rooms, varying action scenes dominated by flickering luminance and blood-splattered walls determine survival and death. More importantly, these moments reveal the context for each character’s previous struggles with abusive police, gangsters, and their overall prison-like existence. All of these experiential avenues merge together in the character of Moses, a wise but brutal born leader who wears the scars on his face not as a symbol of pride, but remembrance. No other person in Attack the Block, especially the two outsiders (a distraught nurse and a spoiled pot head) caught behind enemy lines, attains his level of presence and depth.
Throughout many kinetic chase sequences, where glowing mouths of vengeful aliens illuminate every corner of the frame, Attack the Block values specific textures and sounds of its urban environment. The dark streets, alleys, and fields of the London nightscape contrast with the blinding fluorescent lights lining interior hallways of the high-rise. When seen from afar, this massive fortified structure looks like a gigantic spaceship ready to take off. Also, the sounds of distant sirens, blaring rap music, and running footsteps are layered with the screaming cries of the aforementioned lethal invaders. This creates a deep-seeded sense of urgency connecting time, space, and theme in fascinating ways, an aesthetic trifecta unmatched in any film this year.
Seconds count in Attack the Block, and the safety net of technology doesn’t always hold when death comes knocking. During a hilariously pertinent scene, one character tries to spread the word about the invasion with his smart phone. “This is too much madness to explain in one text!” Cornish consistently mixes comedy and violence with this type of effortless wit, making Attack the Block so much more than simply a fun ride. If the recent London riots (and even the Southern California Blackout) are any indication, Attack the Block could become a defining piece of pop art for this generation; dissecting the complexities of personal and collective responsibility when “civilized” conduct breaks down. So what forms of communication can we rely on during such panicked moments? According to Attack the Block, the answer remains the human kind. End of discussion, “bruv.”
Attack the Block is currently playing in limited release at the UA Horton Plaza Cinemas.