Attack the Block film review

Low budget English sci-fi-horror flick Attack the Block makes a fine across-the-Atlantic companion to Super 8 (my review here). Both 2011 releases feature a cast of teens having to contend with extraterrestrial beasties. But while Super 8 is a Spielberg-esque tale of nice, ordinary kids encountering the fantastic and coming of age in the 1970s, Attack the Block is a much more cynical, contemporary tale – centred on young gang members.


Attack the Block keeps its plot simple and localised. On Guy Fawkes in a low income region of Southern London, a gang of chavs, fresh from a mugging, witness a UFO crash. Naturally, these upstanding young citizens chase and stab the extraterrestrial to death, but their actions have consequences. There are other, more fearsome, aliens about and the boys take it upon themselves to defend their home – a towering block of council flats.

Attack the Block feels strongly old school. It has a distinct 80s vibe about it, and in more departments than just its special effects. In fact the film comes across as a hybrid of intense 80s kids’ adventures (think The Goonies) and 80s/early 90s killer critters flicks (think Tremors). So there’s gore and death and humour – although I probably would have preferred a bit more of the latter.

Anyway, Attack the Block gets a lot right. The film transitions with surprising skill between initially depicting the teens as mean-spirited thugs and, later, as likeable kids from ordinary backgrounds (for the most part), who are secretly quite responsible and committed to their families. Without over-stressing the point, the film exposes the softer truth behind the tough gangster facade.


It also helps that the film features solid, natural performances from its young stars. Newcomer John Boyega is especially good as the film’s lead: scowling gang leader Moses, who radiates “juvenile delinquent” at first glance, but whose steely exterior hides not only a surprising honour code but also plenty of insecurities. Boyega comes across like a young Denzel Washington-meets-50 Cent.

For the record, of the film’s small adult cast, Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway provide comic relief as ridiculously ineffective stoners. Jodie Whittaker, meanwhile, is apparently the access point to the film for middle-class and female viewers.

Performances aside, Attack the Block excels most during its action scenes. First time movie director (and the film’s writer) Joe Cornish has a grasp of tension without needing to resort to gimmicky camera work or cheap scare moments. The chase scenes are a lot more exciting and engaging than anything live-action Hollywood has offered audiences lately.


It’s a pity then that Attack the Block is let down a bit by its aliens. Sure the film is low budget, and going the “man in costume” route is likely to produce more credible results than resorting to bottom of the barrel CGI. However, hairy gorilla wolf things lumbering around is just, well, too much. I’m sure many people will argue that Attack the Block's alien design choice, and its realisation, is just another factor contributing to the film’s 80s feel. Personally, though, I found the monsters just an inch too far into silly territory and, as a result, also an inch too far away from being scary.

Attack the Block is likely to be one of those films that improves with multiple viewings, and will develop a cult following in coming years. It’s the kind of movie I’d happily recommend on DVD; at the cinema not so much given its flaws. Still, I’d certainly suggest people seek out Attack the Block if they want to experience a fun little British twist on overblown sci-fi invasion movies like Independence Day and War of the Worlds.

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