Much like Super 8 (which struck a chord with audiences earlier this summer), Attack the Block harkens back to the style of creature features that was so popular in the 80’s. As a matter of fact, considering both films are about a bunch of teens and ‘tweens fighting an alien invasion, one could say the relationship between Super 8 and ATB is much like that of Gremlins and Critters. The latter is a less polite, harder edged version of the former – and in the absence of major studio money, Critters and ATB had to be incredibly inventive, especially when it came to special effects. Also, all four films take more than a few cues from John Sayles’ brilliant, yet unproduced, sci-fi/action thriller, Night Skies.
The difference between the films can be most easily found in one of the advertising slogans for ATB: Inner City vs. Outer Space. Instead of a group of fresh-faced, mid-Western cherubs trying to escape an extra-terrestrial threat and save the town, the kids in ATB simply take sadistic delight in the freedom to beat the holy hell out of something, anything, with whatever weapons they’ve been able to hide from their parents. In what is sure to be a breakout performance, John Boyega plays Moses – a troubled teen, and leader of a small gang of young thugs living in a South London housing block. In the middle of a committing a mugging, they are interrupted by a projectile from space, which smashes into a Mercedes parked on the street. While rooting through the wreckage, Moses is attacked by an alien – and though his injuries amount to a couple of scratches, like a lot of teenage boys, he simply won’t let it go. His actions put his friends, and his neighborhood, squarely in the crosshairs of an alien invasion.
Visually, it’s a lot of fun, too. While Super 8 looks like a movie that’s set in the 80’s, but still looks as if it were produced in 2011, ATB is produced in 2011, takes place in the present, and looks as if it could be an undiscovered 80’s gem, nestled somewhere in the Horror section of an old VHS rental shop. That is not to say that it looks cheap. It’s that, back then, computers didn’t do much of the heavy lifting, so everything had a visceral quality, mainly because the vast majority of effects were practical (i.e. not composed in a computer). In other words, the monsters are actually guys in suits – which to me, lends itself to more natural reactions from the actors.
Though it isn’t so much a critique as it is a very minor caveat: many of the characters have heavy accents and use a lot of slang. To me, it was a lot like The Commitments, or even the first few episodes of The Wire – yes, there are accents and argots to get used to, but it only takes a couple minutes. And ultimately, if you can’t get altogether used to it, remember – it’s an action movie. If you want depth, you’re kind of missing the point.
Watch the official trailer here. The good news is that Attack the Block starts July 29th (tomorrow). The bad news is that it’s in only one theater. However, that one theater is Arclight Hollywood, so with any luck, enough people will see it, and the good word on this film will continue to spread.