Sony // 2011 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 25th, 2011
The inner city meets outer space.
This year's nerd-boner-inducing cult film finally hits the optical disc market, and now I finally get to see what all the fuss is about.
A group of teenaged hoodies have the run of their South London city block and no one tells them what to do. Led by stoic tough guy Moses (John Boyega), they scoff at authority, disrespect their neighbors, and are prone to pulling knives on defenseless nurses. But their machismo will soon be tested. An impromptu alien invasion leads a pack of snarling, man-eating extraterrestrials onto their stomping grounds, and the night soon turns into a desperate struggle for survival.
When Attack the Block went on its minimal theatrical run, the online hype was insane. I can't remember the last movie that got such gigantic helpings of geek love. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World perhaps? Just take a look at the pull quotes pasted on the DVD case, littered with words like "awesomeness," "remarkable," and "instant classic." Indeed, hyperbole is not in short supply when it comes to this film.
Is it justified? Is Attack the Block the Next Big Thing? Or are we looking down the barrel of another Avatar; cinematic mediocrity clothed in relentless hype?
Despite the strong current of contrarian a-holery that courses through my veins, I have to admit: Attack the Block is a good film. I don't think it's a great film and it's certainly not a pop culture milestone, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a hearty time.
Here's what it is: a lively B-movie that's less an alien invasion film and more a horror picture. Writer/director Joe Cornish (The Adventures of Tintin) keeps the action moving at a quick pace from the onset. We meet our protagonists, they dodge an incoming meteor, and fight an alien monster. Then more alien monsters come and it's off to the races.
The action transpires all in one night and Cornish's set-up is fairly ingenious. There's a reason why the aliens converge on just the one block. The quasi-real-time structure mixed with the confined settings gives Attack the Block some tactile suspense. When mixed with the unabashedly R-rated creature violence (one guy gets his face ripped off in graphic fashion), it's difficult not to peg this endeavor as something that feels less interstellar and more extra-splatter.
Our cuddly antagonists fit the creature feature mold: spry, giant shaggy beasts with neon-green jaws. They're great constructions -- mostly done with practical effects -- and Cornish is generous enough to show these beasts early on and not keep them hidden.
Two things prevent Attack the Block from ascending to the heights of Geek Olympus: the heroes and the humor. The good guys here are street gang "hoodies" and there's no way around it -- they're dickbags. As the stakes get raised and the outer space menace carves up folks like Butterball turkeys, their personalities soften and they become more sympathetic. For a while there I was on the monsters' side. Cornish obviously knows this, having our first introduction to Moses and his gang being a violent mugging of a solitary woman. That's a risky strategy and, while I'm always up for flawed interesting protagonists, I'd be lying if I said I didn't want someone somewhere on the block to grab those little snots and give them all painful wedgies. While "From the producer of Shaun of the Dead" is emblazoned above the title, Attack the Block is not a comedy. For a movie about furry aliens rampaging through an apartment complex, it takes itself far too seriously. Only Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) -- whose role is minimal -- offers anything in the way of humor.
A good DVD begins with a strong 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and an aggressive 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, delivering a solid chunk of bonus material on the back end. Three cast and crew commentaries, a lengthy making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes footage, unfilmed storyboards, and small featurettes on the special effects, the cast, the gang members, and the creature design.
Attack the Block is a better-than-average monster movie, but not nearly the revelation I was expecting.
Not Guilty. Allow it.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R