Film: Attack the Block

If you’re looking for an antidote to feel-good Spielbergian neatness in your alien invasion stories, I definitely recommend Attack the Block (2011), a low-budget but effective and compelling science fiction actioner from the UK. Set in and around an apartment project in South London, it’s the story of a small gang of teenage hooligans who, out making mischief in the neighborhood, are attacked by a small, ferocious alien that plummets out of the sky. Seeing this as a turf-challenge, the gang’s leader Moses (John Boyega) tracks down and kills the alien and carries it, as a trophy, back to to “the block” where he and his mates live. Little do they know that their victim is something of a “pathfinder,” and by bringing it home, they’ve turned their building into a target for another wave of attackers.

Attack the Block might be described as the anti-Super 8,  a graphic, chaotic, urban action tale, mostly (if not entirely) unsentimental, with a refreshingly original angle and multiracial cast. The film is written and directed by Joe Cornish, who leverages his limited budget to excellent effect in both broadly silly and subtly serious ways. The largely star-free cast is quite winning, an unlikely group of street toughs and oddballs who come together under a terrifying, localized threat they find too implausible to explain to an unsympathetic wider world, particularly in light of the reputation of their disadvantaged neighborhood. It’s this aspect of the film that took the film in a refreshing new direction for me, because it steered the standard SF material into new territory: what if the aliens attacked a place nobody in power cared about? After a wacky, propulsively violent ninety minutes or so, Attack the Block answers that question with clever, convincing elan, its final moments elevating the ride to a new level.  Fun stuff!

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