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3 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Attack the Block
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by Jay Seaver

"Good enough that I hoped for more."
4 stars

"Attack the Block" got ridiculously high praise from genre fans at festival showings this year, and it's not quite that good. Then, in between its US opening and its expansion to Boston, the London riots started, and talk about the movie dried up immediately (the film's protagonists would more likely be rioters than victims), and a full North American rollout now seems unlikely. It doesn't deserve that, either. It's a pretty good youth/sci-fi/action/comedy flick, which is not a bad thing to be.

The film opens on Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a nurse just getting home from a late shift who is held up by five teenagers in hoodies - Moses (John Boyega), Jerome (Leeon Jones), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Pest (Alex Esmail), and Biggz (Simon Howard). Something falling from the sky and smashing into a car allows her to get away, but the creature that emerges from it scratches Moses, so the his lads chase it down and kill it. While Sam is talking to the police, the boys take the corpse to the closest thing they can think of to an expert - pot grower Ron (Nick Frost) watches a lot of nature docs but can't identify it - and that seems to be that. Except that there are a lot of other shooting stars falling into this London neighborhood that night, and the creatures coming out of those are bigger and meaner.

Writer/director Joe Cornish gets the basics right with Attack the Block - he establishes his characters and creatures well, and then sets them against each other in a series of well-shot action sequences that increase in scale and complexity as they go along, but never exceed what one might reasonably think the characters are capable of. There's plenty of comic relief, but it never undercuts a genuine sense of danger. What exposition is necessary is relatively painless. In theory, this stuff shouldn't be that hard - we've been making movies for roughly a century, and people making silents seemed to get it - but a lot of action/adventure movies come out every year that don't manage these basic things. This one does it pretty well, and that's worth commending.

The monsters are fairly nice, as well. The design is very effective - these guys are built to be intimidating and combat-ready but also not to make the humans impossible underdogs. The simplicity of the design is quite frankly brilliant in some ways - it works well both as CGI and as practical effects, directs the audience's attention toward the threatening teeth, and the blacker-than-black coloration both makes sense in-story as camouflage and makes up for what could otherwise be seen as shortcomings in the digital effects.

Nice cast, too. Jodie Whittaker is arguably the only actor playing a character we can like without reservation, and she hits just the right tone with Sam, not laughing at danger at all but able to pull herself together when given a minute or two - despite a couple of scenes early that could peg her as the damsel in distress, Whittaker does a good job of not making Sam a victim. On the other side, John Boyega is the best of a pretty decent lot as Moses, eventually getting across just how much this kid can be overcompensating but also staying away from an obvious play for the audience's sympathy. It's a good little acting job, with the rest of the cast lining up well behind him. Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway are good calls as the comic relief, laid-back enough to be genuinely funny without derailing the tension.

As well as the movie is nicely shot and paced, it's not perfect - it relies on Sam and Moses crossing paths one too many times, for instance. And while for many, this is going to be firmly in the "thinking too much about the 'monsters-from-space' movie" category, Cornish does seem to be at least playing around with characters being motivated by certain basic urges, whether to mate or to defend the tribe, but the way he doesn't do much more than bat them around can be a bit of a let-down, like he wants to make a point about this urban tribalism but can't quite articulate it.

That's picky, and I might not even be thinking in that direction if the movie wasn't so well put together mechanically. It's an enjoyable, satisfying sci-fi action movie, good enough to be notable on that level and at least aspire to the next one.

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originally posted: 08/23/11 12:10:21
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Boston SciFi Film Festival For more in the 2012 Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/29/18 M Great! 4 stars
10/30/16 morris campbell killer alien invasion film 4 stars
5/31/12 Matthew Thompson Dalldorf Ha, ha! He just said "True dat, blud!" That passes for a joke in this movie! 2 stars
3/31/12 daveyt Gather all the 'yoots' like these into the Block and bomb it... PLEASE! 2 stars
11/05/11 ken i wanted each and every one of these punk thugs to get eaten by the aliens. 2 stars
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  29-Jul-2011 (R)
  DVD: 25-Oct-2011


  DVD: 25-Oct-2011

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