Attack the Block comes from first-time director* Joe Cornish (off of Adam and Joe). Similar in form to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it follows the pattern of taking an American premise, and seeing how it would play out in a British setting.
In this case the premise is an alien invasion and the setting is a council estate in Brixton. The protagonists are five teenage boys who open the film by mugging a young nurse called Sam (Jodie Whittaker). In the midst of this, an alien lands next to them, and they decide to chase after and kill it. Unfortunately it isn’t the last alien they’ll be encountering that evening, as more and more land in “The Block”.
The teenagers then take it upon themselves to defend the world from something no one is even aware of. However, soon they realise, as one character puts it, they “should have just stayed at home and played FIFA”.
As well as Edgar Wright, who has a producing credit, the other person’s work it reminded me of was Joss Whedon’s. He also takes purely fantastical premises and combines them with very well-drawn characters and well-realised relationships.
Moreover, there is an attention to detail in the way the characters speak, behave and relate to one another that rises it well above its sci-fi/action exterior.
This is not a film which asks us to consider “what would it be like if aliens landed”, but rather “what is about hooded teenagers we find so fearful, and is that reputation deserved?” Like Whedon’s work, the monsters are merely a catalyst that allows us to see what really matters to the characters; what they’re really made of.
Another work it reminded me of was Cherry Tree Lane, a movie which deals with kids of a similar age, this time invading the home of a middle class couple. Whereas that film a much hasher, although not entirely unsympathetic, portrait of “The Hoodie”, Cornish is much keener to show us the humanity that exists behind the negative headlines of so many newspapers in Great Britain.
As someone who works with young people for a living, I saw a lot of similarities between the fictional teens and the ones I work with. In particular their failure to see the consequences of their actions on strangers, but their fierce loyalty and care for each other.
In creating such a well-rounded depiction of a group of teenagers Cornish has created a surprisingly important social commentary on modern Britain. (Which also happens to contain blood, guts, and glow-in-the-dark teeth).
Attack the Block is a very confident, well-realised science fiction film which knows how to go well beyond the realms of its genre. It does well to combine its more Americanised action tropes with the type of social realism one normally associates with quintessentially British directors like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.
* I say “first-time director”, although Adam and Joe used to do these awesome re-enactments of films using stuffed toys as part of The Adam and Joe Show in the 90s. Here’s Saving Private Lion: