Science-fiction and fantasy films are always at their best when they have something to say that goes beyond the usual genre conventions. Director Joe Cornish (he of "Adam & Joe" fame) seems to have been acutely aware of this whilst crafting his debut feature, Attack the Block: a film which has as much to say about community, identity and morality as it does about the extra-terrestrial threat that underpins the story.
Set in and around a single block of flats in South London, the film deals with an apparent alien invasion on Bonfire Night, and the efforts of a small gang of teenage thugs to repel an onslaught of snarling, black, furry creatures from outer space (which fall somewhere between dogs, apes and bears. But with glow-in-the-dark teeth. Seriously).
The largely unknown cast is led by John Boyega as Moses, an intelligent but misguided young criminal who grows into something quite different over the course of the film, and whose confident, assured and dignified performance carries the emotional heart of the movie.
Without Boyega's solid performance, that interesting subtext that I mentioned earlier wouldn't have felt half as powerful. But he manages to strike a keen balance between projecting the kind of false bravado and swagger that you'd expect of a council estate gang leader, and hinting at the sense of vulnerability and hopelessness that also plays a significant role in the close-knit community he inhabits.
The importance of community and local identity are reinforced with constant allusions to the importance of "the Block", to the extent that the titular block of flats almost feels like a character in the movie itself. As well as serving as the battleground for the kids' attempt to repel the aliens, the Block is also what holds the characters together and gives them a sense of unity. Particularly interesting is the change that occurs in the gang's attitude towards a woman they mugged earlier, once they realise that she also lives in the tower block and is "one of them". It's only a minor shift, but it's one that hints at the wider themes that Cornish is trying to explore here.
It's also surely no accident that the movie chooses to render its villains as indistinct, black masses of fur and teeth that feel like a literal embodiment of the abstract concept of the alien 'other', against which the gang has to react in order to define itself. This lack of distinctiveness for the aliens helps to focus the film squarely on the kids rather than on the beasties, placing an emphasis on the human qualities that the kids possess, rather than the inhuman attributes of their foes.
Given its status as a relatively low-budget British film, Attack the Block also manages to pull off some impressive action sequences, arming its heroes only with ruthlessly realistic - and sometimes laughably mundane - household objects and weapons to see off the invading hordes (think fireworks, water pistols and wheelie-bins). There are several fairly gruesome and gory scenes, but the film never crosses the line into out-and-out horror, preferring to err on the side of comedy when the opportunity presents itself.
It's in this respect that secondary characters like drug dealer Ron (Nick Frost, of Shaun of the Dead fame) and Brewis (Luke Treadaway) come into their own, reacting in a deadpan manner to the craziness of what's going on around them and providing some levity that helps to offset the darkness of some of the other performances - particularly that of Jumayn Hunter, whose turn as increasingly deranged drug baron Hi-Hatz feels almost too scary to belong in the movie. Happily, there's always a funny aside or an amusingly-staged action scene to puncture the atmosphere when it threatens to get too oppressive, even when Cornish starts to ratchet up the tension (and bodycount) in the final reel of the film.
The only real criticism that I have of Attack the Block is that I'm not sure it ever manages to fully redeem the characters that we see involved in the mugging that takes place right at the beginning of the film. However, I wonder whether this moral ambiguity is what Cornish was aiming for. His movie seems to take inspiration from Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" by giving audiences a superficially straightforward alien-invasion film that also works on a far deeper level, encouraging us to examine the morality of our own actions and our relationships with our fellow human beings.
But don't worry, lots of stuff gets blown up too.
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Please note this is a region 2 DVD and will require a region 2 (Europe) or region Free DVD Player in order to play Please note thiTrainee nurse Sam is walking home to her flat in a South London tower block when she's robbed by a gang of masked hooded youths She's saved when the gang are distracted by a bright meteorite which falls from the sky and hits a nearby parked car Sam flees just before the gang have to fight off a small alien creature that leaps from the wreckage While Sam and the police hunt for the gang a second wave of meteors fall Confident of victory against such feeble invaders the gang grab weapons mount bikes and set out to defend their turf But this time the creatures are bigger Much bigger Sam suddenly realises that the bunch of no-hope kids who attacked her are about to become her best and only hope to survive Attack The Block is a fast funny and frightening action-adventure movie that pits a teen gang against an invasion of savage alien monsters It turns a London housing estate into a sci-fi playground A tower block into a fortress under siege And teenage street kids into heroes Its inner city versus outer space Actors Nick Frost Jodie Whittaker Luke Treadaway Joey Ansah Chris Wilson Adam Leese Lee Nicholas Harris Flaminia Cinque Terry Notary Maggie McCarthy Jumayn Hunter Jacey Salls Karl Collins Sammy Williams & Yvonne D'AlpraDirector Joe CornishCertificate 15 years and overYear 2011Languages EnglishRegion Region 2 - Will only play on European Region 2 or multi-region DVD playerss is a region 2 DVD and will require a region 2 or region free DVD player in order to play