Attack the Block (2011) – Directed by Joe Cornish – Starring John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, and Nick Frost.
I don’t like making lists and I don’t like reading lists, but credit where credit is due, I only heard about ATTACK THE BLOCK from reading a “Best of 2011” list. I don’t remember where I read it. (Maybe io9.) Someone posted a link on Facebook or email and I was bored and looking for 2011 movies to watch because, as you might have heard, January is Catching Up with 2011 month here at the Anxiety. ATTACK THE BLOCK was on the list, so I added it to the queue.
What strikes me after watching it isn’t that it was on the top 10 list, but that there are top 10 lists that don’t include it.
ATTACK THE BLOCK is one of those small budget thunderbolts that comes out of nowhere and makes you want to tell everyone you know to watch it. Luckily, I have a blog so I don’t need to send out a thousand text messages and pester everyone in person.
BLOCK opens with a cute white woman getting mugged by a group of mostly non-white thugs. They take her phone, her money, and her ring but they’re robbery is cut short when something comes hurtling out of the sky and crashes into a parked car. Sam (Jodie Whittaker) takes advantage of this event to run away, while Moses (John Boyega) decides to take advantage of it by raiding the car. While he’s rummaging around inside the vehicle, something attacks him, claws his face, and takes off. Moses’ pride is hurt more than his face, and when his “fam” gets on him about it, he decides to reclaim his pride by killing the beast.
Which he does, with help from his pals.
They take the freakish carcass to Ron’s. Ron (Nick Frost) is a drug dealer with a super secure weed room in order to get advice on what to do. They think it might be worth money and Ron watches a lot of nature shows.
Now, at this point in the movie I was kinda pleasantly shocked to see that the main characters of this movie where going to be the young hoodlums who mugged our cute nurse at the top of the film. To say they’re not typical heroes is an understatement, but therein lies the real magic of BLOCK. This film is about kids growing up in a bad place, acting older and tougher than they are, forced to actually be older and tougher. After Ron tells them this is a brand new kind of animal and the kids look out the window to see more aliens dropping to Earth, they decide they all want to get in on the killing action, so they run back to their apartments and weaponize themselves with swords, fireworks, bats and go out to do some damage.
And run smack into alien monsters that are a whole heck of a lot meaner than what they already killed.
These bad boys are like dudes in gorilla suits except with glowing teeth. Yeah. Glowing teeth. Lots of glowing teeth.
When the kids first flee from the monsters, Moses gets caught by the cops who are driving around with Sam. Moses gets put in cuffs, stuffed in the paddy wagon, and then the monsters tear the cops apart. There’s three reasons that’s amazing about this sequence. The first is when the cops are putting the cuffs on Moses and he can see the alien in the distance and he wants the cops to get him in the vehicle as quick as possible. One of the cops sneers, “Not so tough now, are you?” and the truth of it is that this is exactly what Moses has just come to realize – he’s not so tough in the face of true bad-assery. The second is that Moses’ friends, despite their trepidation, come to his aid even after seeing the aliens munch up the cops. And the third reason is that it puts Sam and Moses into contact again and switches the balance of power. He had it during the mugging, then she’s got it during the arrest, and then he gets it back when he gets out of the cage.
Moses and his pals tear out of there in the cop van and end up smashing into Hi-Hatz’ car. Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) is the block’s big shot drug dealer. He’s already given Moses a promotion but he’s less than thrilled with his car getting smashed into, so he decides he’s going to end these little bastards. He doesn’t want to hear any talk of aliens, but then an alien shows up and eats his friend. Instead of coming around, Hi-Hatz decides this is all Moses’ fault and really wants to kill them now.
The kids escape, Pest (Alex Esmail) gets his leg gnawed on and random luck deposits them on the floor where Sam lives, so they force themselves into her apartment. She wants them gone, obviously, thinking they’re here to rob her, but they tell her to chill out because there’s alien monsters running about. Now, once it’s obvious Sam and the gang are going to be in the same film, you know they’re going to have to team up, and you know this is not a situation she wants to be in because these are the guys who just mugged her. Tension and emotions are running hot, but she ends up using her nursing skills to help Pest out, and then an alien monster busts into the room and Sam is all, “Yeah, I think I’ll stick with you guys.”
Putting Sam with Moses and his crew ends up being the catalyst to peeling back the layers on these kids. They started out as muggers but eventually we see just how hard their life is in this area of South London. The film doesn’t excuse what the kids do, but it does present the circumstances that lead them into this behavior. Moses apologize to Sam by telling her they didn’t know she lived in the block, and while Sam thinks this is stupid (“What, it was okay when you thought I lived somewhere else?”), she does eventually warm to Moses when she sees that he is a stand-up guy.
Moses is a fascinating character and John Boyega is a revelation. He has such a conflicted sense of manhood, but when he realizes that all of this just may be his fault for killing the first alien, he does man up and puts himself in danger to end the threat. The cops, of course, still arrest him, but the crowd adores him and Sam sticks up for him with the cops.
Writer/director Joe Cornish does a fantastic job touching on social issues as the film progresses. When Pest starts hitting on Sam and wants to know if she has a boyfriend, she tells him he’s working overseas with the Red Cross. “Why not stay here and help the kids of Britain?” he counters. “Not exotic enough for him?” Ouch. Sam enters Moses’ apartment (which is the one apartment we didn’t get to enter when the kids were weaponizing) and sees no real evidence of adult supervision. She sees what looks like a little boys’ room and asks Moses about his younger brother.
“I don’t have one,” he answers.
“How old are you?”
Sam is a bit shocked. “You look older,” she says weakly.
I don’t usually come out and recommend films, but when it comes to out of the way films that weren’t likely to be on anyone’s major radar, I don’t mind championing a film or two. (Like Trick ‘R Treat.) Well, I’m championing ATTACK THE BLOCK. If you like sci-fi films, there’s really no excuse for you not to see this film. It’s exactly the kind of lower budget, better story film that makes me happy. There’s special effects here, but because of the relative budget constraints (US$13 million, according to Box Office Mojo) and expectations, the emphasis has to go on story and characters because you can’t simply blitz the audience with visuals. BLOCK is a good story with good characters; there’s good action, good drama, and a fair sprinkling of humor. The two young wannabe punks who insist on being called Mayhem and Probs steal every scene they’re in.
I can’t say it any plainer than this:
Go. Watch. This. Movie.
And if you think it sucks, come tell us why.