Saturday, November 19, 2011

Attack the Block

"Attack the Block" is a minute pleasure at only 88 minutes long, a film that often confuses concise with slight. All the same, it puts the considerable talents of its director Joe Cornish on display. This man has a way with visuals, concepts, and characters, and he could make a monumental success one day. The film moves probably a bit too fast for its own good, making the situation at its center more surreal than probably intended and making the relationships of some of the characters seem hastily developed, but all-in-all this intense pacing does Cornish some favors, as he is adept with narrative economy.

The film centers on a dangerous neighborhood in London over the course of one tumultuous evening. Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is walking home when she is mugged by a group led by Moses (John Boyega, quite a presence). Just as the robbery is reaching its apex (and Sam is about to be harmed), something flies out of the sky and smashes into a car nearby. Moses goes after this UFO, which turns out to be one of many aliens to come to Earth that night. These creatures are distinct for not having any facial features besides a glowing, glowering blue mouth, and are a pretty solid monster creation on the part of Cornish.

After this initial incident, he splits the film off into two narrative tracks (that eventually come back together later), the primary one following the gang. It seems as if we'd be made to identify with these guys, but the film wisely chooses to see them as a bunch of FIFA-addicted, misled youngsters instead of as noble heroes. That being said, Cornish hardly puts together a social commentary (as some who've compared it to "District 9" seem to think it is); aside from a couple of muttered, downplayed lines by Moses about how the government unleashed drugs and guns on the blacks of London so they'd kill each other faster, nothing much is imparted. The group is contrasted against a white, uptight, and outta sight fellow pot smoker and zoologist student named Brewis (Luke Treadaway) and the building's pot dealer Ron (cult favorite Nick Frost, unusually tolerable here).

What I admired most here were the consistently amusing asides and the masterful visual style. As the film gets more and more strange, the humor serves as an anchor, balancing the tone. The imagery works to the opposite end, making things ever the more delirious. The shot of the aliens crawling up the building is terrifying, as well as the woozy, disturbingly foreshadowed one where one of the gang members is spinning around in a cloud of smoke. Such arresting style is often absent from creature features, and thus is a wonderful surprise here.

"Attack the Block" ends abruptly and could have been better polished. But, in spite of the qualms I had about it, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I would definitely champion it over other recent underground classics, even if it doesn't quite stand on its own. B-

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