(2011) director Joe Cornish
The alien invasion movie meets inner-city London youth in Attack the Block. Of all of the alien invasion movies of recent times, it does have a little more contemporary zeitgeist going for it. The summer of 2011 featured aliens in the Old West (Cowboys & Aliens (2011)) and an alien in the late 1970’s (Super 8 (2011)), and quite often we have ones set in the relatively near future. Attack the Block is meant to represent the now.
England has a long history of depicting working class lives in film and television, more so than is portrayed in the states. Whether glimpsing the north or the west or the center of London, it’s usually the housing estates that are the site of these stories, and Attack the Block is no different. I’m not familiar enough with London to talk specifically about the region depicted here, so I’m limited in what I can say there.
The film starts with a young woman returning home to “the block” from work, only to get mugged by five boys who mask themselves with their shirts and hoodies, though they certainly don’t mask those thick London accents. The mugging gets broken up by a comet-like crash into a nearby car, which turns out to be a small, vicious dog-like creature that the boys run after and beat to death. They take the dead beast to a local drug dealer in the tower to house it for them. Only this is not the only thing falling from the sky this Bonfire night. And not the largest thing either.
The next things that come down are these larger, black wolf/gorilla things, with glow-in-the-dark teeth and no eyes. These things hit all over the neighborhood and the boys, who probably live a fairly hardscrabble existence are suddenly in life or death struggles with an alien invasion of vicious, vicious beasties. Actually, I thought the alien designs were rather cool, very different from the more generic designs of creatures that make little impact these days. Their simplicity is certainly part of their charm.
You get the feeling that there was meant to be a little more subtext to the film. The boys are mostly Afro-Caribbean and this is likely a tough part of London. Maybe a verite-style film in this location would portray a very different version of these boys. This is a pretty mainstream film, after all, and more a popcorn movie than a social critique. Still, it’s hard to pretend that the opportunity for critique was not perhaps more glaringly available. At one point, the leader of the gang, Moses, suggests that maybe the beasts were sent by the government to “take care” of the blacks (like crack cocaine). But this idea is glossed over so quickly that no one really even responds to it.
And really that’s about all its got going in that way. So it’s kind of a zeitgeist taste of “the flavor” of the inner-city without having to take a whole mouthful. After all, this is more about action and scares (and humor) than about social realism. And it is pretty damn fun.