Movie Review | Attack the Block
Movie summary: A teen gang in South London defend their block from an alien invasion. (IMDb)
It's strange going back to watch Attack the Block these days, with one of the main actors (at least, he should've been) of the Star Wars 'sequel trilogy' in John Boyega and the thirteenth incarnation of the Doctor in Jodie Whittaker. They're both good enough actors that you can completely ignore their other sci-fi roles and accept them as who they are here.
And what a unique pairing they are too - a fifteen year old 'gang leader' who mugs lone women at knife-point with his friends, and a nurse struggling to get by and living in a rougher area than she'd like. Not exactly your typical screen pairing, but it works so well and it does take them a convincing amount of time to actually have some kind of understanding with each other.
Of course, their initial characters could easily be taken from today's London, despite the fact that Attack the Block is now almost ten years old. Then there's the fact that the majority of the movie is set in a block of flats in South London - again, not something you'd normally see in an alien invasion movie, but it does make for a refreshing change from famous landmarks in big cities.
Then you can add on the verticality of the action as a result, reminding me of both Dredd and The Raid as the characters move from floor to floor, the objectives changing as the movie progresses. This movie isn't quite as action-packed as those two, but the confined quarters and the nature of small numbers against numerically superior enemies helps solidify the connection.
And the enemies are great, with one of the best creature designs of recent years. The main aliens are covered in black fur, hiding all details other than their hybrid gorilla-wolf shape, with their glowing blue fangs providing both a nice contrast, but also a brilliant way to signal their presence in darkness. They remain a visual treat throughout, causing both jump scares and rising dread when they appear.
I should also point out that these creatures put those fangs to work as you'd expect, with plenty of blood flowing with each attack as they tear in to anyone in their way. Not even the kids in the gang are safe, with one being decapitated and another mutilated. Just because the characters are teens doesn't save them from these creatures following their nature to a foregone conclusion.
You'll be sad for them too, because each one of the young actors is great, although it's obviously Boyega who shines brightest as Moses, especially when he claims the sword from Dennis (Franz Drameh) as his primary weapon. If anything, it makes Boyega feel more like a Star Wars character here than his most famous role as Finn.
The others in the group are great as well, with Pest (Alex Esmail) providing a lot of the laughs. Drameh and Leeon Jones get their moments as Dennis and Jerome too, the latter being especially sympathetic, but Simon Howard's Biggz gets the short straw and is unfortunately sidelined and unable to help his friends for most of the movie.
Jodie Whittaker is great as Sam, and this was actually the first thing I ever saw her in. In fact, I liked her so much here that I hoped she would get a bigger role at some point to show off how good an actress she is and was very happy when she became the Doctor (although I haven't actually watched the show in years). She's vulnerable and strong, and intelligent too, although not quite believing what's going on, even after almost being killed by the aliens.
The one question - note: note a problem for me - I have regarding the cast and their performances is the slang used throughout the film and how many people outside of London will be able to follow what's going on, even with the subtitles on. I'd say most of it is pretty easy to pick up from context clues, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if people bounce off this movie before the aliens even show up.
For me, that wasn't the biggest problem in the movie, which is actually the character of Hi-Hatz, played by Jumayn Hunter. Attack the Block is short enough as it is, but it does feel like he's one of those antagonists added to pad things out a bit, remaining more concerned with retribution against Moses and the others than staying away from the murderous aliens.
Hi-Hatz is the only character who doesn't feel like a real person and more like a plot requirement, completely ignoring everything else going on around them for no apparent reason just so there's something else for Moses, Sam and the others to deal with. He really does feel like he should've left the movie at an earlier point, although his final fate is certainly an eye-opener.
The only other slight issue I have is that Attack the Block seems to finish really quickly, almost like we're missing a scene or two to really set things up for the final sequence. I don't know if budget issues prevented them from fleshing things out a little further, especially as the movie isn't even 90 minutes long, or if there was some other reason, but is just stops abruptly for me.
I do like the very final scenes though, after the aliens have been dealt with. I don't know if you'd call it a happy ending exactly, but I certainly found it to be uplifting despite the blood, violence and death throughout the movie. I was especially happy for Moses, despite what happens to him, and Boyega's non-verbal acting is just perfect for that moment.
Attack the Block is a great movie that just falls short of true brilliance for what are most likely budgetary reasons, rather than any serious problems creatively. Boyega and Whittaker are excellent as Moses and Sam, with the rest of the young cast providing more than capable support. Coupled with some genuinely threatening - and awesome-looking - aliens, this is a highly fun, if all-too brief, way to spend your time.