Genre movies offer filmmakers the chance to step a toe or two on the soap box of their choice. Think George A. Romero’s anti-consumerism vibe from ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and the immigrant’s lament at the heart of ‘District 9.’
‘Attack the Block’ pits an unruly gang against a wave of aliens, and darned if the movie doesn’t touch on class envy as well as nature versus nurture arguments amidst the creature attacks. But writer/director Joe Cornish refuses to let sloganeering mar his feature film debut.
Cornish also risks audience sympathy by making heroes out of a gaggle of petty thugs. He’s piled so much on his plate it’s a small miracle a taut science fiction thriller emerges from the wreckage.
A group of toughs corner and mug a young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) as she dares to stroll through their decrepit South London neighborhood. They hardly have time to tally up their take when a space craft streaks down from the night sky and crashes nearby. The hoodlums end up tussling with a small, furry alien inside, killing the critter in self defense.
What the boys couldn’t know is a battalion of bigger, stronger aliens are heading to earth to recover the creature’s body. The gang, led by the stoic Moses (John Boyega), won’t let these beasties push them around no matter how big their teeth might be. This is their block, and they’re willing to put their lives on the line to defend it.
It’s hard to watch the gang members, their faces covered by handkerchiefs, and not think of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Both involve young men disconnected from their political systems while reaping the benefits of a sticky social welfare web. These kids aren’t the hardest of hard luck cases. Several characters are seen checking in with their concerned parents so they can stay out just a little longer.
Cornish and co. refuse to make excuses for the teens, but they also depict them in ways which soften our initial prejudices. It helps that ‘Attack the Block’ stages several gripping chase scenes on an obviously constrained budget. The creatures are nothing but inky mounds of fur with glow-in-the-dark teeth, but Cornish manipulates them in a way that gives them both power and screen presence.
Just be warned – the characters in this ‘Block’ affect an accent so thick you’re better off using the subtitle option if you want to understand half the syllables being said. Think Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G character, but even more incoherent.
‘Attack the Block’ wraps with a heavy-handed swipe against law enforcement, a jarring note but one that can’t derail a film which otherwise marries mayhem and commentary in near perfect harmony.
The DVD extras include a ‘Creature Feature’ segment, filmmaker and cast commentaries plus featurettes on the youthful cast and why several key sequences had to be clipped in order to keep the project on budget. The ‘Behind the Block’ documentary lets the cast sing Cornish’s praises, particularly how such an “old guy” could approximate the complicated speech patterns of inner city youth.