Thursday, September 29, 2011

In short: Attack The Block (2011)

Distracted from their mugging of nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) by an alien falling from the sky, the group of friends around Moses (John Boyega) decide to slaughter the ugly little thing, and drag it into the council estate they - and, as will later turn out, Sam - live in, in hope for that elusive internet fame.

The thing the kids killed was only the first part of something of an invasion. Soon, there's a whole bunch of additional creatures falling from the skies, all black fur, glow-in-the-dark-teeth and gorilla-dog demeanour. The creatures seem to concentrate a bit on the kids' block.

During their attempts to fight and flee the aliens, the kids will also have to survive the tender mercies of the police, the ire of the block's drug kingpin Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), who does not understand the concept known as "a misunderstanding", and team up with the woman they mugged at the beginning of the evening. There might be time for blood, unexpected heroism, and changes of heart before the night's through and the minor alien incursion can be fought off.

Watching Joe Cornish's Attack The Block did once again drive home what's for my taste missing from a lot - though certainly not all - of contemporary low budget movies - a willingness to not only go through the motions of genre cinema but to mix the generic and therefore expected parts with a contemporary reality, possibly even that reality lying outside the experience of white rich Americans.

Consequently, Attack The Block wins major points with me by having a group of poor, mostly black teenage soon-to-be-real-full-time-criminals as its protagonists, and, while never pretending that mugging people and working up to worse stuff is harmless or loveable, still treating them like actual human beings with pasts and futures and hopes and reasons for doing what they do, but without going into the poverty porn direction of looking down at them mumbling "oh, the humanity!". That's called not looking away from complexities where I come from.

Of course, using actual social complexities as the background and thematic underpinning of your SF horror comedy (the latter part often oh so very dry, by the way) does not necessary make it good as a SF horror comedy.

Fortunately, Cornish's got his audience's back there, too, and does not walk into the traps I would have expected him to walk in. There's nothing of that "aliens as a metaphor" crap here - a black gorilla-like alien with green glow-in-the-dark teeth out to kill you in this movie isn't a metaphor for the police state or the characters' mothers but is primarily a black gorilla-like alien with green glow-in-the-dark teeth, and therefore something that makes an excellent basis for a surprisingly ruthless (I absolutely can't see this one being made in Hollywood without getting a major re-write in the direction of the dishonest and and the mawkish), well-paced and unassumingly clever film in the best low budget traditions like this.

To make a pretty great film even better, the film's handling of its "change of hearts/characters learn a valuable lesson" parts is highly effective and far away from the sentimentality these scenes could have devolved into. Especially in these (dangerous) scenes, the young actors do some very effective and economical work that fits Cornish's unsentimental yet sympathetic treatment of their characters perfectly.

Attack the Block could have been a gimmick film on the level of garbage like Leprechaun In Da Hood, but it turns out to be my favourite kind of film: a B-movie that's as clever as it is entertaining.

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