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28 Sep 2011

Attack the Block

If Spike Lee made an alien invasion flick, it’ll look like Attack the Block

Director: Joe Cornish

Screenplay: Joe Cornish

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Leeon Jones, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard, Nick Frost

Attack the Block was made before the 2011 England riots, which prime minister David Cameron infamously blamed on a "broken society" instead of acknowledging the rioting as the weapons of the weak, a desperate resort to class warfare by those hit worst by the austerity crisis in Europe.

It's only ironic in hindsight that in this sci-fi comedy, a bunch of hoodies and rowdies from a housing estate save modern civilisation from an invasion of "big alien gorilla-wolf motherfuckas" who fall out of the sky one New Year’s Eve. It's moderately ironic and funny that the big war may have started because our friendly neighbourhood problem teens picked on a tiny alien and stomped it half to death with their boots and baseball caps and now it's far larger and nastier alien brethren seem out for revenge. But it's high irony and savage fun when the film begins with the (mostly black and all poor) hoodies mugging a white nurse before getting mugged themselves by the aliens. And according to movie logic, the hoodies and the nurse will of course join forces to protect the UK, if not their block, from the alien invasion!

As a subset of the disaster movie genre, the alien invasion flick tends to valourise the science experts, the military and the civil defence forces, and the Everyman and in doing so, celebrates and reinforces conventional social values. It's only in recent years with films like The Host that the dysfunctional underclass of society have been featured in this genre. With Attack the Block, the violent teens of public estates are not only celebrated; they’re the heroes who save the day precisely because they’re such dysfunctional hooligans.

I admire that the film doesn't sugarcoat their deviance or valourise their alterity. Instead, director and writer Joe Cornish adopts the Spike Lee approach to his subjects, portraying them as a bunch of scared kids who just want a modicum of attention and respect from a society that has largely written them off. Sure they smoke weed, mug people, and drive scooters but they wouldn't mug you if you lived in their block.

As a mark of his scriptwriting skill, Cornish manages to generate huge laughs from these unsavoury aspects of our protagonists while keeping the social criticisms of class and race ominously in the background. Attack the Block is fine for audiences who want to see something new done well in old genres and be entertained at the same time.

Reader's Comments

1. 2011-09-30 20:26  
Hahaha, Vernon - you can't be serious! The riots have got nothing to do with austerity in Europe - let me guess, you're sat in a comfortable office with a skyline of Singapore in it. No, the riot is simply people out to get something for nothing, part of the inbred jealousy British people have. The British don't like to see people doing better than them, they want to have success given to them on a plate, they won't work for it.

As for the film; it is the usual poor, zero education with crap parents teenagers that have no future suddenly having a purpose in life and learning some life lessons along the way. An interesting film, a bit sparse, done on a tight budget with some humour thrown in here and there. However, it is much better than some recent alien fare from across the Atlantic.

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