Attack The Block is the 2011 directorial debut from England’s Joe Cornish. In South London, a gang of seemingly no-good teenagers are forced to defend their block from an alien invasion, requiring the help of a woman they had mugged earlier in the night.
I would normally say that being predictable, clichéd and refusing to stray from genre conventions are all things to criticise a film for. Strangely though, these can all be said of Attack The Block, yet I found them to actually be strengths, rather than weaknesses. I knew within five minutes who the hero would be and the type of journey they were going to take. What Joe Cornish manages to do as a writer though is work in plenty of in-jokes and tongue-in-cheek nods to familiar plot devices that made me smile plenty of times.
One particular example that I enjoyed involved two characters supposing how much trouble they might be in for. Remembering that the teen gang had already easily disposed of one invader, one person surmises, “…they’re four foot high, blind and got kicked to death by a bunch of kids. We’ve got nothing to worry about”. It’s said in such a knowing way that you could do worse than assume that actually, they might just have quite a lot to worry about.
I was a big fan of the script. Initially, I worried that I may find it a little irritating, but I actually came to enjoy the realistic nature of it. The teens speak as South London teens do, and I believe Joe Cornish took his cue from the cast when writing the dialogue to ensure it was accurate. I’ve seen other films attempt this where the dialogue was completely lost on me (The abysmal Kidulthood springs to mind), but fortunately Attack The Block avoided that pitfall, in the process reminding me not to pre-judge any element of a film.
The script contained some fantastic humour that occasionally made me laugh out loud. When one character suggests there are no aliens, just big dogs, one of the teens retorts, “You think them things are dogs? Go out there and try feeding them Pedigree Chum!” It’s witty lines like that that kept me thoroughly engaged with the movie and chuckling throughout.
Lurking beneath the comedy and general good fun is a subtle but sharp social satire. It has long been the case that, in England, youths are demonised by terrible tabloid papers such as The Sun and the atrocious, fear mongering, hate spreading Daily Mail. We’re lead to believe that all youths wear hooded tops and mug ladies and engage in knife crime. When the film opens with exactly this happening, I was concerned that it was taking a far-too-easy approach to characterisation. What actually follows is a clever script that clearly sympathises with ‘the youth of today’ and works some knowing satire in. I liked this element of the writing – not enough people publicly denounce the right wing media’s offensive stereotyping of young people in Great Britain, which makes this approach entirely refreshing.
The film deserves credit for it’s casting. All of teens were unknowns prior to this film and none of them do a bad job. John Boyega is impressive as Moses, the moody leader of the gang. Alex Esmail also caught my eye; he is afforded many of the funnier lines and gets the comedy spot on. The only casting choice I was disappointed with was Nick Frost as Ron, a weed dealer who lives in the apartment block. He’s not a miscast as such, I just found him to be something of a non-event; the film certainly doesn’t benefit a whole lot from him being there.
Attack The Block is a funny and massively enjoyable film, not bogged down by it’s predictability and adherence to genre conventions. Occasionally a little jumpy, it walks a tightrope between action and comedy, with some sharp social satire thrown in. This is a definite success and a very encouraging directorial debut.