Cannes Review: Attack the Block is Loads of Fun

Finally, a film that portrays the irrational hubris of youth as a net positive. Attack the Block, bathed in techno and rap, long on laughs and attitude, and boldly innovative while still flashily acknowledging those that have come before -- this is a movie that should (and deserves to) foster a cult audience. We need more films in the spirit of Attack the Block, movies unafraid to blend genre, made on the (relative) cheap, and with characters you can relate to. An absolutely excellent time.

So what's it all about? South London, the dodgy part, where you're liable to get yourself mugged if you're out late at night. Which is precisely what happens to a young nursing student named Sam (Jodie Whittaker). She's accosted by five youths for her purse, cell phone, and jewelry. But something happens while she's being robbed, BOOM, a huge meteor-like object crushes a car that's right beside the thieves and their victim. Everyone scatters to the wind, though Sam is too frightened of the muggers to take note of the larger events unfolding, events portended by the destroyed automobile.

Attack the Block

What we have here is an alien invasion, though of the localized variety. No shots of CNN, no marshaling of the worlds resources, just the kids of urban London battling against whatever the hell is landing on Earth, chasing them. An intimate alien film? Absolutely. Clever, eh? Sadly, to get too deeply into the specifics would be a disservice, so let's instead focus on the superior attitude and execution that is Attack the Block.

There's no wasted motion as the boys begin to equip themselves for war. In some ways, their attitude is informed by a couple decades of invasion films, and they don't blink as they get strapped and make mutual "got your back" winks and nods. The leader of the young gang is Moses (John Boyega), he's poised and lethally effective, and the four other boys would clearly go to the wall for him. The boys attempt to leverage the contacts they have, which of course include drug dealers and drug users, all in an effort to deal with the issue at hand. Nick Frost plays one of those user/dealers, he brings his patented "Hmmm, I am confused by the events transpiring" cluelessness to the action, and of course this is used for maximum levity. Go to the police? Ha! These boys are rousted by police on the regular for their mere appearance, they trust the police even less than they trust whatever it is that's attacking their little corner of London. No, the official routes are off-limits, they've been raised to handle their own business. This is London lawlessness versus alien savagery, no prisoners, no mercy.

Where Attack the Block excels is in the areas of music and technology. And techno music, appropriately enough. The film makes excellent use of KRS-1's "Sound of da police" and there's a moment where all the boys have used up their mobile service allotment (remember, these are rough and tumble inner-city kids, not remotely approaching middle class) and one of the fellas exclaims "This is way too much information to put into only one text!" It's moments like this that show Attack the Block's cultural vitality, this is a movie that is attuned to a realistic portrayal of how a cataclysm might look through the eyes of England's youth.

The one failing Attack the Block must be dinged for is its stubborn refusal to let events dictate tone. There are heart-wrenching scenes here, but Attack the Block refuses to admit the emotional toll, opting instead to keep a relentless foot on the plot accelerator. It's a reasonable choice, as it's as much a comedy as it is a sci-fi invasion story, but the lack of introspection keeps the movie from taking its rightful place at the very top of the genre. Still, that's a paltry complaint and shouldn't detract from the overall "fun" level of the work as a whole.

Part Warriors, part Goonies, but all heart, Attack the Block is wildly entertaining, a must see for any fan of "us vs. them" cinema.

Grade: B+