Movie Review #41 / 250 : ‘ATTACK THE BLOCK’

Remember how I’d said Videodrome was completely off the wall in both its concept and its execution? Remember how I pretty much labelled it as the most insane screenplay I’ve ever come across? Of course you do. It was only yesterday. No offence to any of you that may or may not be goldfish, obviously.

Attack The Block is probably one of the most original films I’ve seen so far. While I’ve misled you into thinking it’s confusing, it’s far from that – but it is cheerfully mental. The movie focuses around a gang of British teenagers against the gritty urban backdrop of an inner-city tower block, roaming the streets in a pack, generally causing mayhem and chaos. So it’s a social study, right? It’s going to be a no-holds-barred depiction of urban Britain in the 10s, right?

It looks that way, at least until the gang’s mugging of a young nurse is interrupted by the explosive crash landing of a furry white alien with no eyes and lots of teeth.

Bear with me.

Rather than chaos breaking out, however, the gang hunts down and kills the creature without a second breath, and keeps the corpse as a trophy, celebrating the victory as if they’ve just won a game of FIFA. However, it’s not over. As the gang retires into the solace of their weed-growing neighbour atop the tower block, scores more bigger creatures fall from the sky, and seemingly start to hunt down the killers of their original fallen. What snowballs from here is a totally unexpected change in style and pace, as the characters in the block begin to fight for their lives in a scenario not entirely dissimilar to your archetypal zombie flick. This is an urban drama that crashes head-on with a sci-fi twist, and it works brilliantly well.

There’s an absolute bumload of stuff to talk about with Block. It’s a film that’s taken me by surprise in all honesty – and I’ll run through a handful of what I reckon are the more important points. Firstly, what I was genuinely scared of was that I’d be unable to connect to the main characters. As any law-abiding person living in Britain and over a certain age would tell you, characters like Moses’ gang are all too real (and some are nowhere near as sympathetic). Having characters initially portrayed as willing villains of polite society evolve into the protagonists of the movie (and, furthermore, the good guys) is a concept that doesn’t sound amazing on paper.

And yet, it excels on screen. As these characters are so real and believable, their skirmish against the aliens becomes far more enjoyable than if we were given a cookie-cutter set of character types (tough guy, smart guy, sarcastic guy etc), I think I seriously would’ve enjoyed the movie a lot less. The reactions, the decisions and the rationale of these characters, while they’re all flawed in one way or another, feel absolutely natural. It’s this that helps get rid of what could’ve been a heavy coating of sci-fi bumph over the top. But, no. The only information we get about the beasties is the information the characters realise, and of course, what we see. We’re also handed very little awkward character bumph.

That leads me into my favourite scene in the movie, where our perceptions of the gang are first pulled into check – as the kids decide to face the alien onslaught head-on, they choose to storm down the tower block, one by one splitting away to go into their own homes to retrieve weapons. It’s here that we get given brief, but telling snapshots of what sorts of lives each if them leads – and they’re all extremely normal, adjusted, and lacking the broken home scenarios we were all (admit it) expecting. Whether this scene was done for laughs or not, it doesn’t matter – it’s a brilliant piece of cinema, and it totally arrests you to the gang’s side for the rest of the film. The leader, Moses, has quite a different story that gets hinted at later on, though it really doesn’t kill your faith in him.

So, yeah – I’n not going to talk much longer on this. The concept is fantastic, the characters are real and deep enough to carry a story, and the sci fi elements are so low-fi that you’ll barely call this much more than a survival picture. While it’s really not everyone’s cup of tea, and one or two of the characters don’t work brilliantly (pretty much everyone bar the central kids, in all honesty, pales in comparison), this is a real gem buried amongst piles of box office dreck. If you want to see it, I wouldn’t advise hesitation, as it’s a real marvel.

PRO: Amazing concept. Brilliant visuals. Characters that grow on you. Good pacing, and as long as it needs to be. Some great little touches that show care has been taken.

CON: Some of the characters are flat. Themes and style are a bit exclusive. Little more than a survival flick wrapped up in a character study.

9/10. So far, this is the only film I would recommend at all cost. A brilliantly low-budget little film that avoided big bucks at the box office, as a debut for director Joe Cornish, it’s something on the stupendous side. Well worth an hour and a half of your life.

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