If you live in the US, odds are that Joe Cornish’s name doesn’t mean much to you. Yet. Known for The Adam And Joe Show in the UK, as well as small roles in Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, his script for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn – which he co-wrote with Wright, along with the long-gestating Ant-Man – has yet to be appreciated by mainstream American audiences. His first directorial effort, however, is one the best theatrical experiences I’ve had in a long time. Mixing a kids-in-a-gang premise with an old-fashion standoff and incorporating fantastical creatures using rotoscoping techniques that would make Ralph Bakshi proud, Attack The Block will undoubtedly make you excited for ANYTHING he puts his name on in the future.
Set in south London, the film follows a group of hoods in their early teens who are involved in selling drugs, assaulting and robbing people who pass by their street corner, and general shenanigans. After mugging Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a local nurse, the group spots a pod of sorts falling from the sky, which crashes down and destroys a car right next to them. Moses (John Boyega), the leader, gets scratched by a creature emerging from the wreckage and, seeing it run off, gives chase to an old building where he kills it immediately. Dragging the corpse through the neighborhood back to their dealer’s HQ, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) sees the act as a rite of passage and decides to “make” Moses. That is, if the larger, nastier aliens who just crash landed in the neighborhood don’t tear them to shreds first.
Saying that Attack The Block is a cross between Rumblefish, Assault on Precinct 13 and Critters is a fair comparison, but a tad too simplistic. Cornish’s feature-length debut is a gathering of gifted newcomers, including cinematographer Thomas Townend and most of the cast. Seeking an authentic representation of the disaffected and trouble youth in the UK (a subject touched upon quite a bit in British cinema over the past few years including Hot Fuzz and Heartless), Cornish cast young unknowns for his hood group who actually provided insight into the hierarchal ruling involved and the proper slang to use (which is sadly the most discussed about aspect of the film), among other things. All of the kids are phenomenal, taking what would be one-note characters and turning them into sympathetic and REAL people, especially Boyega who steals the show as Moses. Because of this, none of them – including the adult characters – really feel like fodder; every scene and character feels essential.
What stands out just as much is the creatures’ production design. Like the creature-features of the 80s and early 90s, the aliens are wholly unique and effective, carrying traits that don’t make them seem like they were ripped off from a thousand flicks before. Their presentation, which is a mix between practical and rotoscoping techniques, works incredibly well, creating a shade darker than black while giving it texture.
A heavy dose of dry, witty humor mixed with engaging action and a score by Basement Jaxx that will appeal to fans of Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy score, Attack The Block is an unquestionable homerun and the kind of film that doesn’t come around often enough. Cornish manages to take what could have been unlikeable antagonists and transforms them into heroes with razor-sharp wits and tongues through the occurrence of unlikely, random circumstances, making him come off like a British Shane Black. It’s a shame that the dialect is what the industry is buzzing about as the film looks for a distributor, and not how fun and refreshing an experience it is.
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