13 May 2011

Movie Review: Attack the Block


C-

Attack the Block
2011, 88mins, 15
Director: Joe Cornish
Writer: Joe Cornish
Cast includes: Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, John Boyega, Alex Esmail
UK Release Date: 11th May 2011

Considering its director is a modern stalwart of British comedy, it’s somewhat perplexing to find “Attack the Block” so short on laughs. An alien invasion picture set in a South London estate, “Attack the Block” claws desperately to be taken seriously as both a thrilling creepshow and satisfying comedic caper, but it can’t hit these marks due to a phenomenally soggy screenplay. The film also asks audiences to root for a selection of poorly fleshed out hoodlums for the full duration, a misstep that robs the movie of engaging central characters.

Whilst out making trouble in the local neighborhood, a teenage street gang led by Moses (John Boyega) encounters an alien life form, bludgeoning it to death after initially being wary. Thrilled by this conquest, the boys parade the deceased creature’s corpse around the local estate, bringing it to the attention of several less than wholesome personalities. Within hours more aliens plummet from the sky, the newcomers being a larger and more notably hostile strain of the same beast. Taking an active interest in the gang and the local area, the monsters launch an assault on the teenagers’ homes, forcing the normally asocial reprobates to team up with a recently victimized nurse named Sam (Jodie Whittaker). Together the unlikely group attempts to combat the extraterrestrials, all the while trying to deduce why the aliens would want to invade London in the first place.

“Attack the Block” feels very cinematic, even if it unfolds within only a few select locations. The cinematography courtesy of Thomas Townend is outstanding, helping to cultivate a real sense of menace amidst the nighttime setting; Cornish and Townend collaborating to fill the film with stark imagery and vibrant stylistic additions. It’s a frantic motion picture, disappointingly devoid of inventive action, but undoubtedly kinetic thanks to Cornish’s whiplash direction. “Attack the Block” deserves to be recognized as charmless and forgettable, but the picture’s cracking pace and high quality technical attributes aren’t up for debate.

The performances vary from competent to amateurish, hardly surprising given that Cornish plucked most of his young cast out of total obscurity. John Boyega just isn’t likable enough as Moses, the first timer handing in a po-faced and incredibly cold turn, which coupled with his character’s dubious criminal pastimes makes for a rather hateful screen presence. Certainly the film’s attempt to turn Moses into a hero come the finale feels misjudged. Jodie Whittaker is acceptable as a nurse with good reason to despise the teens, but the only youngster who genuinely impresses his Alex Esmail, showcasing decent comic timing and a respectable amount of charisma as a cheeky delinquent with a dopey hat. Nick Frost (playing a goofy drug dealer) and Luke Treadaway (one of Frost’s posh customers) form a nice rapport as the production progresses, but Cornish ultimately chooses to neglect them, instead applying keener focus on the one dimensional youths and their bluntly unfunny antics.

“Attack The Block” is almost never frightening, Cornish displaying little aptitude for concocting tension. The film isn’t afraid to get gory in places, and even disposes of several younger characters in very visceral ways, but that alone isn’t enough to render the flick terrifying. The filmmakers opt for boo moments too regularly, and the picture’s speedy style means there’s no room for organic dread to develop. For a feature that boasts bloodthirsty antagonists, samurai swords, a van getting hi-jacked and copious amounts of drug use, it’s remarkable that “Attack the Block” should be such a disposable and relatively unmemorable sci-fi offering.

The central concept is worthy, but the narrative really isn’t, “Attack the Block” unfurling in a depressingly generic fashion. The film’s sense of humour also fails it at crucial junctures, for a man with such an acclaimed pedigree as a jester, it’s weird to see Cornish plump for the obvious gag most of the time. “Attack the Block” has its merits, but they’re generally surface level bonuses, undermined thanks to weak characterization, uneven scares and a severe lack of giggle worthy material. I can’t imagine future genre aficionados will look back at this profoundly irritating production with much affection.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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