Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Attack the Block (2011)

In case of alien invasion...hug a hoodie.


Image: Optimum Releasing


Horror comedy is a notoriously tricky genre to pull off. For every Shaun of the Dead that successfully mashes genres, there’s a Lesbian Vampire Killers, which...does not. Add a sci-fi element, and you’re just trying to make things difficult for yourself. So, how does Joe Cornish (best known for BBC Radio 6’s wonderful Adam and Joe Show) fare with his alien invasion com?

On a council estate in south London, a gang of youths led by Moses (John Boyega) are mugging nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) when they’re interrupted by something crashing to the ground. It’s a small but fierce alien monster, which Moses and his friends swiftly beat to death. But it’s not long before there are more of these aliens hurtling towards the estate, but these are much bigger and a lot more fierce...

Attack the Block takes several risks. First off, it’s a very ambitious debut, with no little amount of action, horror, and special effects, all taking place within a fairly confined area. Then there’s the cast of unknowns, apart from Whittaker (Venus, St. Trinians) and Cornish’s friend Nick Frost, who has a small role as a local drug dealer. Finally, he’s chosen a gang of hoodies as his heroes. It’s asking quite a lot to expect the audience to get behind an antihero who we meet while threatening a pretty young woman with a knife.

Though the film starts with Sam, the perspective quickly shifts to Moses and his friends and we find ourselves invested in the bike-riding hoodlums. The young cast are superb, finding the balance between the humour and the drama nicely. The biggest parts are given to Boyega and Alex Esmail, who plays the mouthy Pest, but Franz Drameh (Dennis), Leeon Jones (Jerome), and Simon Howard (Biggz) are all good. It's thanks to them, and some nicely paced back-story from Cornish, that we stay engaged and that we’re rooting for them against the monsters rather than the other way around. Whittaker also does well as the tough nurse who needs some convincing to side with her assailants, and quickly gets all the convincing she needs.

Cornish has also made good choices with the creatures themselves. The design is simple and scary. And when these monsters bite, they bite hard, with well-judged amounts of red painting the tower block walls. Crucially it’s also very funny, with comic relief from Esmail, Frost, and Luke Treadaway (Heartless) as posh student Brewis who finds himself stranded on the block. 

There are a few jitters here and there but this is a first film that shows confidence and skill as well as a fresh take on a genre that’s had its fair share of stale misfires. 

Funny with some genuine scares, Attack the Block is a terrifically entertaining debut from Joe Cornish.

4/5

JH

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