Attack the Block (2011)


I have been struggling with how to properly review this film and to do it justice and just last night I realized that I can’t. You see, the film has so much to say about racism and about inner city gangs and the unfairness of the society which creates them and yet punishes them for existing. It also has a lot of subtext about gender roles and what it means to transition from being a boy to being a man and taking responsibility for your actions.

I can’t speak to any of that. I do not have the skill and so many others have already done that, and done it so much better than I possibly could. There’s a great review here from a blog called LADY GEEK GIRL and Friends. Go read that.

However, the form that all of this social commentary takes is that of a monster movie… an alien invasion movie. And that… that I think I’m qualified to take on.

ATTACK THE BLOCK begins with fireworks… literally.

The film opens on Bonfire Night in Brixton, South London. A young woman is walking home to her flat when she is held up at knife point by a gang of young hoodlums. The gang take her cell phone, cash and a ring. As the robbery is happening the fireworks are bursting overhead and something comes down from the sky and crashes into a nearby car.

The leader of the young gang, Moses (John Boyega), goes to investigate. A strange little creature jumps out of the ruins of the car and attacks Moses, leaving him with deep scratches on his face before running off into the night. In the panic the young woman runs off but the young gang has a new focus now. Moses wants to hunt the little creature down and kill it.

This is where we get introduced to the gang. The gang that we just saw rob an innocent woman, the gang of hoodlums that only a moment before the audience held great antipathy towards, this is when we get to know them and, against all odds, begin to feel sympathetic towards.

They are young… very young… barely teens. Their exuberance over the hunt for the creature is infectious. You forget that mere moments ago these were faceless hoodlums who robbed an innocent woman at knifepoint.

They hunt down the creature which is white and hairless and most certainly alien. They kill the beast and take it back to their dealer (Nick Frost) who lives in their apartment block. The dealer works for the boss gangster, Hi Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). He owns the block and he can make or break the young gangsters who live there. He allows the alien corpse to be stored in his weed room and he singles out Moses, giving him the responsibility of dealing cocaine.

The gang is ecstatic with their kill and Moses’ newfound favor. Their jubilation is short lived, though, due to the arrival of the rest of the aliens. These aliens aren’t small, white and hairless like the first. These are big, black and full of glow-in-the-dark teeth. They are murderous and they mean business.

Fleeing the aliens, the gang are intercepted by two policemen and Moses is arrested, identified by Samantha, the woman he mugged. The aliens, following Moses, maul the police to death and attack their van, leaving Samantha and Moses trapped inside. Dennis reaches the vehicle and drives the van away, only to crash into Hi-Hatz’s car. Samantha runs away while the rest of Moses’s gang catch up and confront Hi-Hatz.

From here on, Attack the Block follows the general plot of most alien invasion movies. The gang has to contend with aliens, avoid getting arrested or murdered by the psychotic Hi Hatz.

As with all of these films, the gang is slowly picked off by the marauding monsters. That’s the way these movies go, but it is really heartbreaking in this case because you can’t help but like all the members of the gang. As a viewer of these kinds of movies you know that some of them won’t make it to the end of the film.

This film is produced by the same people who made Shawn of the Dead, and this has the same sort of sensibility about it. It plays with the conventions and sometimes subverts the audiences expectations. It’s familiar territory for a lot of us, and it is also more than a little violent. Despite the fact that the cast is as young as 9, this is certainly not a movie for the kiddies.

I won’t give away any plot points. Needless to say the film is entertaining and very satisfying on the level of an “aliens invade” movie, but there is also so much more in terms of subtext. The film deals with racism, with the class system in England, and with the problem of youth violence in general. It doesn’t preach at all, nor does it hit you over the head with it all. It doesn’t even offer up any solutions. It just presents it along with everything else and the viewer is left to sort it all out for him or herself.

Do watch this. I really can’t recommend it enough. The story is well told, the aliens are really well done and menacing, and the performances are all amazing. But I will give a warning for the squeamish — there’s some real over-the-top violence. Not quite Tarantino level, but certainly more than in your average episode of Doctor Who, so… be warned.

Five stars… ten out of ten… two thumbs up…