Amidst a summer crowded with superheroes, remakes, and sequels, wouldn’t it have been great to see a really fun, original film that featured exciting action sequences, realistic characters, good special effects, and a lot of laughs? Unless you live in a major film market, chances are you didn’t get to see the English import, Attack the Block, a great little flick that features all of these things and more.
In the south of London, we meet Sam, a young nurse, walking home from the Tube station. As she chats on her mobile, she sees a group of ruffians on the sidewalk — bulky coats, bandanas pulled over their faces, hoods up, looking like one of the rioters that set London aflame back in August. Sam has to cross their path to get home, so she nervously strides forward, only to have her suspicions confirmed when the leader pulls a knife and demands her purse.
Suddenly, a nearby car explodes. The kids figure it must have been an errant firework like the many that are exploding all over the neighborhood, but the damage is much too extensive. Sam makes a break for it while the boys turn their attention to the now-open car, hoping that that they’ll find something of value inside. Instead, the leader, Moses, gets attacked by a small, wrinkled creature with six-inch claws and a mouth full of teeth. He kills the beast with his knife and then drags the corpse back to “The Block”, the public housing flats where the boys live. They plan on keeping the corpse in “Ron’s Weed Room”, which is a room filled with weed and it belongs to Ron, the local drug kingpin, until they can sell it the next morning to the highest-bidding tabloid.
Ron, played by a low-key Nick Frost, agrees to house the alien, but the boys soon realize they might not have a monopoly on the dead alien market after all. Meteorites begin to pepper their neighborhood in what appears to be a full-on invasion. In an effort to not only protect their investment, but to also be the heroes of The Block, they grab weapons stashed in their bedrooms — knives, baseball bats, a decorative samurai sword, a backpack full of “bangers” (fireworks) — and head out to “kill all dem aliens, brah.” But these aren’t the same type of space invader as their previous close encounter, and it’ll take a lot more than a little knife to bring down the second wave.
Pretty much from the get-go, Attack the Block never lets up. The creatures pursue our young anti-heroes in a Terminator-like fashion, letting nothing stand in their way, which leads to some really great action sequences. It helps that the design of the creatures is put to perfect use, having them hide in the darkened hallways of The Block, waiting for their chance to pounce. It just goes to show that it doesn’t take a totally realistic CGI monstrosity to be effective; the main thing that matters is that a creature is scary. A novel idea, I know. And these nasties are definitely not something you’d want to tangle with, even if you do have a good, solid baseball bat on-hand.
While the action is great, the characters are also really nicely developed. Each character has his moment to shine, and each one has his moment of weakness, so their actions, more than their wardrobe or some superficial character trait, help define who they are. Perhaps the best example of this is Moses, who is definitely the leader, and when you see him in action, you understand why. He’s smart, he’s direct, he takes control of the situation (as much as that’s possible), and he’s the first to charge into the fray when the shit hits the fan (proverbially speaking, of course). By the end of the movie, you’d follow him anywhere, which is exactly what you want out of your hero.
One aspect of the film that I found really surprising was that these kids are in real danger. Many times a film centered around teenagers is boringly safe; you know all your main characters are going to survive the ordeal. Spoiler Warning: Not everyone survives in Attack the Block. But when you consider the kids and the circumstances, it makes sense. They live in a rough neighborhood. They have knives hidden in their bedrooms. They mug a helpless woman. These aren’t the suburban misfits of The Goonies or Super 8 here. They’ve seen things, they’ve done things, and their first instinct is to kill whatever it is that’s encroaching on their turf. Rather than go back to their flat, lock the door, and play FIFA all night, they go after the aliens with misguided gusto, like so many chest-puffing teens would. They think they’re invincible, so the only way to show them – and us- that they’re not is to make sure they aren’t all there for the happily ever after ending. They take on adult endeavors, so they must face adult consequences, and in this case, it might cost you your head.
Attack the Block began limited distribution in North America on July 29th, hitting major markets like New York and L.A., before expanding to some bizarre secondary markets, like Ann Arbor and Boise. Sony Pictures was in charge of distribution, but execs worried that Americans would be turned off by the South London accent. They even considered subtitles to help the audience comprehend what was being said, but we all know how ‘Mericans feel about subtitles. Feeling that the language barrier (for lack of a better term, even though it’s still English) was simply too monumental to overcome, they released the movie with little fanfare in select cities to minimize their losses. I’m not a movie exec (yet), but let me tell you, that was a dumb, dumb move.
With the strong ratings of Doctor Who, the popularity of last year’s Sherlock, an Oscar nod for The King’s Speech, and the multi-Emmy win of Downton Abbey, I think there are quite a few people in this former British colony that can understand an English accent by now. And even if the audience might miss a word or two in Attack the Block, the fact of the matter is, kick ass action sequences are a universal language. Give me a group of kids on BMX bikes, pedaling their little tea-and-crumpet-loving little hearts out as they’re being chased by a pack of pitch-black aliens the size and temperament of rabid gorillas, and a few words lost in translation are the last thing on my mind.
It’s a real shame that Sony didn’t think you could handle an English accent, because Attack the Block is not only hands-down my favorite movie of the summer, but of the year thus far. I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class; I had a blast with Captain America; and Rise of the Planet of the Apes was really solid. But none of them match the excitement, the laughs, the thrills, and the balls-to-the-walls greatness of a movie that probably didn’t even make it to your local multiplex. Thankfully Attack the Block has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray, so you’ll finally get the chance to see the best summer movie you didn’t get to see this summer.
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Written by Rob Lammle (@spacemonkeyx)
Rob became a geek at a very young age. Growing up on a farm, with the nearest kid his age living five miles away, Rob had a lot of time to watch movies, read comic books, and play with his Star Wars action figures. He now finds time to write for a few… More »
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