February 13, 2012

Movie Monday: Attack the Block

Book CoverAttack the Block, like Drive, tops my list of best 2011 movies. The director, Joe Cornish, and most of his cast might be new to movies, but Attack the Block is brisk and assured. There's no padding to this socially-aware monster movie.

The eponymous block is a council estate - think projects - in South London, where Moses (John Boyega) and his four friends live. Attack the Block opens when they mug Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a young nurse who recently moved into the block. Immediately after a dog-sized creature falls from the sky and the boys easily kill it. Both of these actions have repercussions that last throughout the movie.

Uncredited, from Tumblr

You see, that wasn't the only alien to come to Earth - and the others aren't so easy to kill. I love the monster design in Attack the Block. It's a low-budget movie, but being able to see nothing of the creature but a glowing mouth is extremely effective. If you're concerned about watching a horror film, Attack the Block is neither gory nor super scary. There are some effective shocks and a few violent kills, but that's not the true focus of the movie.

Most of the attention is given to the humor and the setting. Attack the Block is produced by the same people as Shaun of the Dead, after all. Whenever things get too tense, there's a Brewis (Luke Treadaway) scene to lighten the atmosphere. (Brewis is a rich kid who went to buy weed for a party at the wrong time.) The girls who act as a counterpart to Moses's gang are also delightful. The dialogue, almost entirely in the chav vernacular, is pretty easy to pick up and helps the block feel fully realized.

I think a council estate is a wonderful setting for a horror movie.  It's claustrophobic but still allows for movement.  (Chase scenes are essential.  Attack the Block has some great ones.)  The balance between the gang and Sam shifts throughout the movie but it never feels like the story is trying to have its cake and eat it too.  There's more to the gang than violence, but Sam doesn't have to forgive them just because they had their reasons.  What Moses, Pest, Biggz, Dennis, and Jerome did was wrong and Attack the Block never pretends it wasn't.  It just acknowledges people can do good things and bad things.  Thugs can care about and protect their home.

Actions have consequences and those consequences can make for a terrific movie.

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