Film Review: Attack the Block

Voracious aliens—kissing cousins to the razor-toothed critters who starred in four low-budget 1980s/early ’90s horror comedies—fall from the sky into a low-income South London housing project in this entertaining horror tale.

Wyndham Tower in the South London housing project Clayton Estate isn’t much: It’s rundown, controlled by drug dealers and terrorized by restless, unsupervised teenagers like Moses (John Boyega), Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard), whom we first meet as they’re mugging Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a newly graduated nurse who just moved in a couple of months ago. Fortunately for Sam, something suddenly and explosively strikes a nearby parked car—something much bigger than any of the Guys Fawkes Day fireworks lighting up the night sky—just as they’ve relieved her of her wallet, ring and cell-phone and it looks as though things are about to get uglier.

In the ensuing confusion, Sam high-tails it home and calls the police while Moses pokes around in the damaged vehicle in search of valuables. He finds something, all right, but nothing he could have expected: Some kind of animal claws his face and takes off, going straight through a hurricane fence and vanishing into a storage shed. Moses and company follow and kill the creature, though it beats the hell out of them exactly what they’ve killed. They decide to take the nasty corpse to their pal Ron (Mark Frost), who works out of the apartment where his boss, scary drug dealer Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), grows dope in his specially constructed (and fortified) weed room and coordinates distribution of harder drugs. Ron is always watching National Geographic specials and knows about weird wildlife, plus they can score a little weed while they’re there, even if they have to put up with losers like Ron’s pal Brewis (Luke Treadwell), a middle-class slacker who’s squandered more opportunities than the whole lot of them have ever had. And then stuff gets crazy….

Like Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later, Attack the Block (whose title echoes that of the 1999 Korean crime comedy Attack the Gas Station! for no particular reason) is firmly rooted in John Wyndham’s apocalyptic Day of the Triffids, a smart, bleak little book about how quickly large-scale disaster strips away the veneer of British gentility. Not that “genteel” is the first word that comes to mind when describing many of Clayton Estate’s tenants: Like low-income housing projects everywhere, its residents are divided between poor people with middle-class aspirations and practical plans for realizing them, and sullen, seethingly resentful representatives of the permanent underclass. But also like Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later and Day of the Triffids, Attack the Block clings to a touching faith in the power of adversity—especially the kind of outrageously unlikely adversity guaranteed to dispose of the average person before he or she can come to grips with the fact that it’s happening—to bring out the inner hero in the most unlikely and/or unpromising individuals.

And so Moses and his gang; sensible, well-brought-up Sam; totally toasted stoner Brewis and a even a couple of pint-sized gangsta wannabes who’ve renamed themselves Mayhem and Probs (Michael Ajao and Sammy Williams) round up makeshift weapons ranging from ornamental samurai swords to gasoline-filled super-soakers (this being the U.K., guns are largely conspicuous by their absence) and make a stand. The result isn’t a genre-changer and heavy-duty special-effects connoisseurs may be underwhelmed by the evil aliens, but overall Attack the Block is brisk, witty and crackling good fun, the kind of movie genre buffs live to discover and share with their friends before it’s officially dubbed a “cult classic.”