Attack The Block

29 May

Director: Joe Cornish (2011)

Brap! A noise of youths which has made my skin crawl for many years, all the more so since I moved to London. ‘Brap’ – an entirely nonsensical noise, more often than not accompanied by an equally nonsensical and frankly ridiculous hand gesture. But this is apparently what the kids are doing these days, particularly those who reside in the revered south of the river. NB: such reverence is mainly by North Londoners and this statement is in no way a comment on the residents themselves, more that my ventures south of the Thames rarely take me much further than the South Bank. Yet here we have Joe Cornish (of Adam and Joe fame), taking us deep into South London, Oval no less, in his directorial debut, the much anticipated Attack The Block.

In an all too familiar setting, Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is walking home late at night to her council block when she is accosted by a group of hooded youths who proceed to mug her leaving her shaken on the ground. Next, in perhaps a karmic episode, a strange light is seen in the sky, rapidly making its descent to earth. Smashing into a nearby car, the boys switch their attention thinking there might be something more valuable in there than in Sam’s pockets. Moses, the gang leader, approaches the car – but soon regrets his decision as a strange creature emerges. In an attempt to regain street cred in front of his fellow youths, he decides to chase after it and kill it.

Massive error. The film then follows the inevitable escapades that ensue when South London hoodies are being chased by aliens while simultaneously not wanting them to beat them down, innit. Dragging their kill back to the block, to show their resident drug dealer Ron (Nick Frost), whose ability to read National Geographic clearly bestows upon him the ability to identify alien life forms. It doesn’t. So the boys persuade him to let them hide it in the safest room in the block – the weed room.

Decked out with a veritable arsenal of weaponry from their houses, the boys head out to defend their block. Add in a few sub plots including Hi Hatz the drug baron, Ron’s boss, who fancies some vengeance after the boys, after hijacking a police van, crash into his BMW while escaping from the ‘gremlins’. Hi Hatz isn’t buying – that is until one of his henchmen feels the cruel reality of one of them and promptly meets an explosive end. The great thing about films set in a housing estate is that you are automatically given a fantastic canon of characters who would, even for the briefest time, become involved in the story. Brewis (Luke Treadway) is a posh boy, clearly lost on his way home from Fulham, who gets caught up in these shenanigans after buying weed from Ron. But handily, Brewis is a zoologist and so has enough know now, despite being completely baked, to recognise that perhaps Moses killing the alien has entices its mates to come and reap their revenge by releasing a pheromone. I would even go so far as to say this is an almost completely feasible explanation for an alien invasion. Other notable characters include Probs and Mayhem – two wannabe gangsters, eager to join in the fun of the block’s gang members and to rightfully earn their street names.

What is strange is the complete change of heart towards the characters you find towards the end of the film. At the start, they are the usual miscreants you cross the road from, clutching onto your handbag, housekeys firmly grasped in between your fingers, Wolverine style (just me?). But by the end, you are invested, if mugging victim Sam can forgive them, or at least recognise a little humanity in them, then maybe we can too. You end up fully routing for them in this battle between man(boy) vs alien. If – hypothetical  – a South London council estate was to be subjected to an alien invasion, Attack The Block is exactly how it could fly; inhabitants seeing it as a personal insult and the police oblivious and seeing it as just another night of trouble and gang violence.

Style-wise, Attack The Block is amazing, Cornish’s directorial decisions from soundtrack to camera work – the scene where Moses faces his final showdown with alien is outstanding – is flawless bringing the perfect amount of edge and refinement to each scene. The script is hilarious, made all the more so by the fact that these actors are not polished, in fact many of them were just picked from South London council estates, and so allows them to bring their own nuances and energy to their lines. The closing message avoids the usual “Sigh, it’s all over, we beat those damn dirty aliens and saved the world” satisfaction that is granted by most alien films. Instead the fact these boys protected their block becomes peripheral and as the boys are driven away in police vans, we realise just because they protected their block doesn’t mean they are winners in everyone’s eyes.

And I think a second ‘brap’ is a completely reasonable way to end this review…


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