Nick Frost
Attack the Block
Medium: film
Year: 2011
Writer/director: Joe Cornish
Keywords: SF
Country: UK, France
Actor: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Leeon Jones, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard, Maggie McCarthy, Danielle Vitalis, Paige Meade, Gina Antwi, Natasha Jonas, Sammy Williams, Michael Ajao, Luke Treadaway, Flaminia Cinque, Nick Frost, Jumayn Hunter, Selom Awadzi, Adam Buxton, Haneen Hammou, Saffron Lashley
Format: 88 minutes
Website category: SF
Review date: 18 December 2012
It's basically Aliens vs. Hooligans. It was a big geek hit last year for Joe Cornish, first-time director but long-time friend of Edgar Wright and Big Talk Productions (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). It's fun.
The story: aliens attack Brixton. Jodie Whittaker gets mugged by five hoodies, in an incident that was taken from Cornish getting mugged in real life and noticing that his young assailants were as scared as he was. They're a pretty appalling bunch. Whittaker and her neighbour call them "monsters" (but guess what!), but this doesn't seem unreasonable. They're led by John Boyega, an unsmiling intense thug who seems to hate the world. Cornish is uninterested in making these lads nice, or even likeable. Instead he's setting up a juicy fight for when he throws aliens into the mix, which will be within the first five minutes.
The first alien is bald, ugly and mildly Gigeresque. It also doesn't last long. "Well, 'ere, lads, you've discovered a species hitherto unknown to science, quite possibly non-terrestrial in origin, and you kicked its fuckin' head in!" So far, so thuggish. Unfortunately the space squid had friends. These are like the comedy ape from The Androids of Tara, except convincing. They're black hairy gibbons with glow-in-the-dark teeth that never get bloodstained, no matter how many people they tear to shreds. We learn a bit about their physiology, but nothing about their intelligence at all. They don't appear to be sentient. They just bite your head off.
The result is a good fight. No arguments there. It's violent, high-octane and also funny.
Most memorable about this film is its dialogue. It's scummy street talk, but it's making for one of the most quotable films I can remember. It overtakes Commando! "That is not a dog." "You swear too much, man." "Sorry about the driving; I'm getting lessons for Christmas."
Okay, those quotes out of context might not sound Wildean, but trust me. In the mouths of yobs, they're funny. The dialogue is by far my favourite thing about this movie.
It's not scary. Cornish isn't going for suspense, although he manages a good jump scare or two. It's all about adrenaline and mayhem, albeit with an unusual spin because our wannabe gangsters are only fifteen years old. I liked the glimpses we get of their home life, with grandmothers, mothers and so on. "Now don't you go getting into trouble!" Meanwhile two other boys are about nine.
The acting isn't anything out of the ordinary, except for Nick Frost. He's a sleazy leather-clad weed dealer and he surprised me by how excellent he was, even though I'd already been a fan of him and Simon Pegg. He's leagues above everyone else in the film and more than a little wonderful. "Quite sweet, really, aren't they?" The child actors are impressive, considering their youth and inexperience, but Jumayn Hunter could perhaps have been scarier and I was mildly disappointed in Jodie Whittaker.
The only thing I didn't like was the SF in-joke place names. Wyndham Tower, Moore Court (yay!), Huxley Court, Wells Court, Clarke Court, Ballard Street, etc. That was a bit too cute, especially when the camera lingers on a map of the area.
It's a simple film and an easy recommendation to anyone who's looking for a laugh. I could imagine someone being alienated immediately by our protagonists, but the film's not trying to pretend that they're heroes. It's simply looking forward to throwing aliens at them. It has some clever touches (e.g. aliens landing on Guy Fawkes' Night) and it doesn't matter that we never learn what's going on or whether these are even the real aliens. (Were the disembowelling space gibbons unleashed by intelligent aliens flying overhead in a mothership? Is a third wave of aliens on its way?) Cornish also neither apologises for nor soft-pedals his yobs, which I approve of.
In short: a riotously simple exercise in carnage, bad attitude and making you laugh. A good Christmas present!