Director: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Nick Frost
Runtime: 87 mins
This film is showing at Reel Cinema. Click here for showtimes and more information.
Little White Lies is an independent film magazine that can be found only in the most alternative of places. As such, the film that is featured on its cover is normally chosen under the assumption that it will be one of three things: classic, very good, or at the very least, cult. With this in mind, Attack The Block carries with it a measure of intrigue and a dose of caution, not least because it is one of a steady flow of British “hood” dramas that so far, aside from Bullet Boy, have failed to capture the gritty realism that was found in the early 90s American equivalents such as Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society.
Having said this, director Joe Cornish’s pretence for the film did not lie solely at the feet of social realism. Attack the Block’s pitch would have been along the lines of “a tongue-in-cheek comedy/genre-movie about an alien invasion… set on a council estate,” but it is this over-ambitious approach that proves to be the film’s downfall. The first issue here lies at the authenticity of the lead characters. By using inner-city teenagers, Cornish, who helmed the script as well, automatically opened himself up to criticism. During the first 45 minutes, when the film is at its most dialogue-based, it plays out as more of a pantomime or play than a film. The conversations between the friends appear to be too autonomous and sequential to be believable and you fast become aware that you are watching amateur actors.
But what Attack the Block lacks in conviction, it makes up for in heart and enjoyment. The leads are entertaining and watchable as their hard exteriors slowly unravel to reveal something more innocent and vulnerable. Its setting, too, is very Carpenter-ian in its claustrophobic darkness and foreboding score. The set-pieces, too, are handled with aplomb, with a highlight being when each respective teenager must go to their flat, greet their parent, grab a weapon, and make up a lie about homework, xbox or football. While this is humorous, the film is also slightly ignorant of pop culture – I was genuinely surprised that there was no reference to Facebook in the entire film. If there is a line to be taken, it is the politicised one about gang/gun/knife culture, something that is made blaringly obvious in one moment where the lead character, Moses, reflects on the possibility of the government sending the aliens into the block as a way of eliminating them. It’s unnecessary, ill-considered, and out of place.
The mere fact that Cornish spent a year researching the way teenagers speak in South London makes the final outcome all the more pitiful, despite its good intentions. As if to counter the dialogue’s attempts at humour, there are the obligatory sci-fi deaths that just feel incongruous, seeing as these kids are only about 15. So while the premise objectively seems to be clever, funny, scary and entertaining, Attack the Block sadly only manages to tick the last box. Nick Frost is underused as the weed kingpin, and there is no real sense of escalating dread as the film moves towards its climax. Clunky, yes, but just enough goodwill to see you through to the end.