Attack the Block

Competent directorial debut from Cornish, but lacks spark.

Released in 2011, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 10 Jan 2012 by Scott Morris
Attack The Block image

I had very much wanted, and perhaps expected, to love Attack the Block, mainly because the man behind it was Joe Cornish, of Adam & Joe fame. I say fame. Perhaps the age old Channel 4 Adam and Joe T.V. show and their Radio 6 broadcast aren't exactly the most influential slices of pop culture to the world at large, they've had strong influences on everyone here at theOneliner in their tender, formative years and in our view can do little wrong. Attack the Block sadly doesn't quite meet our perhaps unrealistic expectations.

Cornish's flick is set in the tough council schemes of Laaaahhndaaahn focusing on a group of 'hoodies', young thugs interrupted from their usual entertainment of mugging people when an alien lands close to them. True to stereotype, they stave its head in, or whatever it is that it has in place of a head. However, their triumphalism is short-lived, as the relatively small and harmless creature they offed is chased by a large number of its elder, angrier compadres, all gunning for Moses (John Boyega), Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard).

Also mixed up in this chaos are nurse, Sam (Jodie Whittaker), victim of that there mugging, dope dealer Ron (Nick Frost), one of his customers, the hapless misplaced middle-class type Brewis (Luke Treadaway) and the crime-lord big wig of the tower block Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), mistakenly believing that this disturbance is Moses' attempt to usurp him.

I think it might largely be my own fault that I didn't enjoy Attack The Block. I had, for in retrospect no particularly good reason, been expecting a comedy. Sure, Attack The Block isn't deadly serious, and there's a few funny moments in it, but this is far from an out-an-out comedy.

It's pitched somewhere between Alien and Assault on Precinct 13, although with a particularly unlikely set of 'heroes'. It mixes action, chase and siege mentalities, and presents an interesting mix of genres. The language is also remarkable, a bizzare neo-London urban patois that's a million miles away from cockney and also a million miles away from any other form of English, although from context everything's remarkably understandable. It's perhaps understandable why American distributers might be put off by the language, but I think that's worrying over nothing. Few in Britain can speak this slang, but it remains comprehendible.

The problem, as it happens, is with them there unlikely heroes. A bunch of delinquent robbers are, by their nature, unlikable. This appears to be the film's grand gamble, to feature genuinely unsympathetic protagonists, with I suppose the understanding that the gradual realisation of their personal responsibility over the course of the piece allows us to eventually be brought on side with them. I don't see it myself, as everyone's as much of a thug at the end of it as at the start, and realising past actions were immoral hardly excuses them.

There are impressive elements, for sure. Cornish gets a range of good performances across the cast, and the framing, pacing, editing, shot selection and all the other mechanical aspects of the film are well-handled - better handled than you'd expect from a first time feature director. The effects are surprisingly effective given the film's budget, and generally don't look as cheap as you might expect from a small U.K. indy flick about space invaders. Indeed, the aliens remind me of the aliens drawn on the side of the old Space Invaders cabinets, which themselves bore no relation to those in the game. I digress.

I just couldn't engage with the film. I wouldn't say I found it unenjoyable, it just made very little impact on me. The more I think of it, the more sure I am that I'm doing this a disservice purely because I expected something different to what it actually is. I think, or perhaps hope, that I'll listen to this back in a year and feel foolish having watched it again and revised my opinion, but from where I'm sitting at the moment I can't recommend it.

Joe Cornish
Cast list:
John Boyega (Moses)
Jodie Whittaker (Sam)