While there have been some great films of the alien invasion genre, many of the biggest have been the most lackluster — from the mediocre Independence Day to the horrid Battle: Los Angeles. Instead, the best invasion films that come to mind are usually those that depict isolated incidents in small towns or at remote arctic research stations. Attack the Block takes this small-scale approach to absolutely dwarf the big budget blockbusters through sheer entertainment.
Attack the Block is set in and around a housing development in the slums of south London. The film opens as a young woman, walking home from work, is mugged by a group of hooded thugs on bikes. But when something falls from the sky, these characters are propelled into a night of action, carnage and hilarity. The film does a great job opening with this group of characters, who would often be completely nameless, faceless thugs in most any other movie, and gives them attitude, perspective and heart. It’s a tough task to center a film around a group of young kids whose first act is robbing an innocent young woman and expect your audience to identify with them throughout the rest of the film, but Attack the Block absolutely succeeds. In fact, while the film never excuses their actions, it gives the characters context with a bit of social introspection — not a huge part of the film, but it does add a bit of depth and relevance.
As for the alien invaders that menace the youths, they are some of the best designed monsters I have seen in a long while. While they are incredibly simple and shot in a way that doesn’t give their look away from the start, they are creatively and uniquely designed. The film actually does a great job of having its characters figure out how they work in order to understand how to kill them. As our protagonists learn more about the creatures, they only get more and more interesting — a benefit that helps the film become more engaging throughout and something that few alien or monster films are able to do successfully (because of the neat surprises that are to be had, I won’t spoil any of them here).
What the film does best, however, is blend its scares with laughs. It’s no coincidence that this is the best horror-comedy mash-up I’ve seen since Shaun of the Dead (one of my favorite films of all time), as many of the people behind Attack the Block come from that film. Edgar Wright is an executive producer and it is the first feature from his friend and oft-time writing partner, Joe Cornish. There is also a memorable supporting role from Nick Frost, who plays the only important adult of the film.
Attack the Block doesn’t go into the territory of spoof — its handling of the comedic moments feel absolutely genuine. It’s hard to say exactly how we would all react to a low-scale alien invasion, but I think the film has it pretty right as all of characters authentically act and speak like urban teenagers and their arcs realistically waver between humor and fear. To see a film centered around black and lower class teenagers and not use them merely as jokes or a characterless menace is extraordinary, and each of the cast is extremely funny and has a unique personality. Also, jokes are never made at the expense of the creatures, which certainly helps the movie feel like a horror film. Maybe, perhaps, too many of the film’s scares rely on jump-out-and-grab-ya tricks, but the film earns a lot of shocks through the mood and care it takes with its monsters too.
Attack the Block is a film that will thrill most of the audiences that see it, and hopefully audiences will be able to see it soon. With a great young cast, a great balance between laughs and frights, a phenomenal soundtrack and overall visual style, this is a small film that is a true contender for my favorite films of the year. It will be sure to please fans of Shaun of the Dead and similar horror-comedy mash-ups, having both the edge and wit to attract fans from both genres.