'Attack The Block' (2011) Review: A Would Be Classic
Back in 2011, one of the biggest movies in the world for film buffs was ‘Attack The Block’. There was no escaping it. Every website, podcast, or personality associated with film would not shut up about it. The rest of the world? Well they were lucky if they even heard about it. The film didn’t do well at the box office and made less than half it’s budget worldwide so, this was not the breakout hit it deserved to be. Which is a shame because, Attack The Block was, and still is, an awesome movie.
Before that, I want to get into why those who saw it were so taken with it. To do that, I have to get into the mind of a film critic. A type of person whose entire identity is fuelled by an almost nihilistic love of nostalgia. We’ll tell you that what we want to see more than ANYTHING is an original movie. That we hate the constant remakes, reboots and sequels. Sure, while critics will hem and haw about unoriginality, it’s largely just for show.
In reality film critics love callbacks, references, anything that links the films we’re watching, to films we’ve already seen. It’s the reason why Quentin Tarantino has an almost cult-like following for his movies. His films are full of iconic imagery meant to evoke a sense of familiarity. Too much of that though, and you start to lose the magic. You really want to get critics to love your movie? Get about 40% worth of callbacks, and 40% original story, and in that last 20% make it connect with societal issues.
Put that all together and you have ‘Attack The Block’. A film that is just as refreshing now as it was back in 2011.
Just by the way the film starts, it challenges you. You see a young woman walking in the haze of street lights, suddenly descended upon by a gang. Emerging from the shadows, masked, hooded, baring weaponry, the scene effectively makes you fear for her life and vilifies the young men robbing her. This is the introduction to your heroes. 5 young men, merely boys in essence, who go from taking a woman’s purse, to becoming their apartment complex’ only hope for survival in the face of a violent alien invasion.
Soon after the robbery takes place, a creature falls from the sky. A mix between an ape and a dog, with unmistakably alien features. Something familiar, with something new. The creatures are pitch black, stalking from afar where it’s mistaken as something you know. It’s not until it’s up close that you’ll realise they’re an unknown entity, and by then it’s too late. Nothing but glowing fangs with an ever widening jaw stand before you as you meet your demise.
The film isn’t shy about what it’s trying to say. As you uncover the layers to the creatures, you also discover there’s more than meets the eye about the young men. In reality, this is a coming of age story is about 5 boys faced with responsibility, and choosing to do what’s best for their community. Despite the fact that their identity is often married to the idea of villains. 5 boys of colour have to save their block, because no one else will.The dialogue in the film is realistic, and doesn’t pull any punches. There are lines that defy the idea of the black super predator preying on the lives of good natured members of the community, and ones that comment on the hypocrisy of tourism via altruism, rather than taking that same charity to your local community. There’s even a theory that th aliens were introduced by the government to attack black communities. Really, ‘Attack The Block’ is the best film about explaining to white people the realities of being black in a system designed to oppress them. All while giving you a hilarious and thrilling adventure, that evokes the same energy as films like the Goonies, E.T, and Gremlins.
Where ‘Attack The Block’ succeeds the most, is in its devotion to its world. The stakes are raised appropriately with characters meeting their demise in gruesome, and terrifying ways. Not too long after though, the film will have the main characters crack a joke, and carry on with the task at hand. At first, this felt like a tonal disconnect, but I soon took it as intentional. As the characters themselves will tell you, life under constant threat of danger and a constant need to survive is more familiar to these boys than you’d think.
None of this could work, if the performances by the actors weren’t as exceptional as they are. Each of the boys are strong performers. Alex Esmail, Leeon Jones, Franz Drameh, Simon Howard, all bring their A game no matter what the film requires. Whether it be pathos or superb comic timing. John Boyega may be a household name now, but Attack The Block was the film that gifted him unto the world. Before he was fighting for the rights of aliens throughout the galaxy, he was stomping the life out of them in the inner city of London. His role here as Moses, the leader of his friends, is a complex one rooted in the idea that he’s the cause of all the ills in the world, or at the very least his own, and those who choose to associate with him. Boyega delivers that inner torment and makes it seem effortless.
I could go on and on about ‘Attack the Block’. How its direction creates a sense of claustrophobia, making the location of a towering apartment complex feel like an oversized coffin. How the very slight visual effects do wonders for making the creatures as terrifying as possible. I haven’t even said anything about the music and it’s importance to the films identity. The real point of this review is to say, ‘Attack The Block’ was the little film from 2011 that could’ve but didn’t. It has all the makings of a mature modern version of the 80s adventure stories it’s influenced by, but without the audience to make it a hit. If you haven’t seen it, seek it out, and check it for yourself. I defy you to find someone who has seen it and didn’t like it.
Rating: Big Screen Watch