Other than the accents, the thing that may most differentiate British sci-fi pic “Attack the Block,” from its American counterparts is a relative lack of firearms. It was only a few years ago that the British copper began to carry a gun. Clubs were sufficient for generations. Otherwise, American filmmakers could learn something from this contemporary tale of space-alien invasion of Earth.
Like “Cowboys & Aliens,” it has elements of a morality tale. It also offers suspense, crime, an unlikely band of street rabble forced to save the planet, and a good deal of understated, classically British, comic relief. It is not, however, a comedy as it is billed. But it does have “coming of age” elements, which actually work.
Title will make little sense to American auds. In UK, a “block” can mean many things. In this case it refers to a subsidized apartment house, what the Brits call a “block” of “council flats.” The block is turf to two gangs, a group of teen and pre-teen thugs led by Moses (John Boyega), whose weapon of choice is the knife, and whose mode of transport is the bicycle, and a rather more lethal bunch of drug dealers who are a generation older. The two gangs come into conflict by accident of alien invasion. Auds can guess which gang lives to tell the story.
Pic opens with Sam (Jodie Whittaker, who played opposite Peter O’Toole’s Maurice in “Venus” a few years ago) about to be mugged by Moses and his juvenile delinquent gang. The mugging is interrupted by what looks like a meteorite but is in fact a space alien landing on a parked car. It’s an ugly thing but not quite as awful as the creatures from “Cowboys & Aliens.” Moses and the gang slay the thing and parade it around as if it were a prop.
All well and good until its mates come looking for it. These nasty creatures are eyeless, black, hairy blobs who jump higher than an Olympian, scale tall buildings, and tear the guts out of their human victims.
The attack of the killer blobs leads to a couple of plot twists. First, it brings about an encounter, founded on a misunderstanding, between Moses’ gang and the older drug dealers. Second, it puts Moses gang into an almost guerilla mode as they flee to safety in the block’s “weed room,” a reinforced indoor greenhouse for growing marijuana.
For all his bravado as a delinquent, Moses is not exactly the bravest of guerilla fighters. One of pic’s amusing subplots is Moses’ coming of age. Another amusing subplot is provided by a couple of small kids, aged seven or eight, who show just what a super soaker can do to nasty space aliens. The main plot, however, as with “Cowboys & Aliens,” lies in the alliance between erstwhile enemies in the face of greater danger. Sam joins the teen gang. The girls of the block get involved in fighting the aliens, too. Even the geek, who come in for special bullying by Moses & Co. provides a critical plot twist and is eventually accepted as one of the in-crowd. The plot twist is deceptively simple: It seems, he points out, that the alien slain by Moses is a female. The hairy blobs are males. Moses and Co. have the female pheromones all over them. That is what attracts the hairy blobs. Auds can figure out the rest as Moses steps up to the plate in an action of almost commando precision.
Pic’s fall guys are the older drug dealers and the cops. The latter can’t seem to get anything right, even a space alien invasion, which they see with their own eyes.
Unusual for British import, “Attack the Block” can be understood by American ears. Sound recording is adequate. Action takes place in one night, which is a money-saving device for filmmakers. An abundance of night cuts the cost of set design. Lensing by Thomas Townend is up to par. Writer-director Joe Cornish helms with a steady hand, and pic is littered with ironic punch lines delivered in deadpan. How English! Kudos to Jonathan Amos for keeping pic down to 88 minutes in the cutting room. Action, which abounds, is convincing, if a tad bloody. Special effects lack the razzle-dazzle a Hollywood effort would offer, but it is not missed. The aliens get their point across without it.
“Attack the Block” is rated R, largely for language and violence. Sex is implicit rather than explicit. The rating is a joke. Today’s kids would love it. Pic offers nothing they have not already seen in a video game.