Having enjoyed the Attack the Block panel at Kapow! back in April, I finally got round to seeing the film this weekend.

Turns out it’s easily the most enjoyable new movie I’ve seen all year – a creature feature that’s as tight and energetic as Edgar Wright’s cinematic efforts, if less overtly referential.

According to writer/director Joe Cornish, the idea was to take kids who would be described as feral and heartless by the tabloid press and put them up against creatures that actually exemplify these traits. This theme is flagged up in an unsubtle line of dialogue near the start of the movie (courtesy of an obligingly distressed old lady no less!) but judging by some of the reviews this approach wasn’t blatant enough.

For example, this Daily Record review is pretty fucked up, even for something that was printed in a paper that’s written by and for idiots.  Here’s the first line:

IF movie anti-heroes are to work, it’s crucial they make us understand, admire or identify with them. Think Dirty Harry, Mad Max or Dexter Morgan — bad guys we love for taking out even badder guys.

Which… okay, here’s a different way of saying that:

IF movie anti-heroes are to work, it’s crucial they let me live out my insane white guy fantasies about killing people for a good cause.

At least the reviewer didn’t waste any time before getting to the mad  stuff, eh?  Still, fucked as that opening is, I think it was this one that broke me:

Robbing a defenceless nurse (Jodie Whitaker) early on, these are kids deserving not our empathy but 18 months inside. And without parole.

Yeah, you read that right. Those young (mostly black) kids who shake up the nice (white) nurse and take her phone, ring and money? Well, they’re obviously UNLOVABLE BEASTS, not like that nice (white) Dexter Morgan, who only kills baddies and who has a nice (white) smile. Sure, he might have racked up a few bodies in his time, but that’s okay – no jail for him, just a few lovely (white) hugs from other lovely (white) psychopaths!

(It’s not that I don’t enjoy Dexter by the way, but if you can “admire or identify” with the main character of that show… well, that’s fine, but you might as well start empathising with Badrock or Violator as far as I’m concerned.)

In addition to the tedious tabloid scare mongering (“the result is cheap, unexciting and shake-your-head-wondering-about-the-state-of-Britain depressing” indeed!), there’s also the squiffy question of genre to contend with. Attack The Block isn’t about a hero with blood on his shoelaces or any of that bollocks, it’s more concerned with loyalty. Loyalty to people, places and genre, with the kids’ fierce attachment to each other and their block mirrored by Cornish’s attachment to the tropes of the movies he loves.

These two forms of loyalty are synthesised in the movie’s best scenes: the brilliantly orchestrated tooling up sequence near the start of the movie and the tense walk up the smoke-filled corridor near the end. You’ve seen directors make these moves before, but never in this building, or with characters like these. Cornish and co make sure you feel this as you race down that staircase with them, or follow them into the smog.

Also, for all that the gang can be cold or dismissive towards their victim-turned-accomplice Sam, it’s hard not to warm to them over the course of the movie. They’re overexcited and funny, they obviously care about one another and the naive mix of friendliness and hostility they show towards Sam just adds a level of moral complexity to the piece. God save us from that, right?

While Attack The Block is a genre piece, rather than a work of social realism, it still gets across the psychology of its protagonists with an admirable clarity. John Boyega’s Moses is particularly well observed, both on the level of script and performance. I’ve spent the past few paragraphs arguing against the idea that this is a failed anti-hero movie, but as Film Crit Hulk’s review makes clear, there’s an altogether different sort of heroism to this character:

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO PICK UP A GUN, SWORD, WHATEVER THE HELL, AND RUN OUT IN FRONT TO DEFEND YOUR FRIENDS? TO LEGITIMATELY SACRIFICE YOURSELF.

… THINK ABOUT IT.

IT SOMETHING PEOPLE SEE TIME AND TIME AGAIN IN MOVIES AND YET IT SOMETHING WE NEVER REALLY QUESTION WITH OUR OWN LIVES. WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR YOU TO DEFEND YOUR FRIENDS? THE MOST OBVIOUS EXAMPLE IS THE MILITARY. GRANTED, THE MILITARY AND THE REASONS FOR JOINING OFTEN PAINTED IN ROSES. IN BRUTAL HONESTY, LOTS JOIN BECAUSE THEY WANT TO KILL STUFF, IT WAS FORCED ON THEM, OR MOST OFTEN THEY JUST NEED THE MONEY. BUT LOST IN THESE CYNICAL REASONS ARE THE THOUSANDS OF MEN AND WOMEN FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE WHO JOIN TO CONTRIBUTE TO SOMETHING BIGGER THAN THEMSELVES. IT’S HEADY, HONORABLE STUFF. SOMETHING THAT THE POSH, LIBERALLY MINDED WORLD OF HULK AND EVERYONE ELSE FORGET. SACRIFICE = REAL. BUT IF OFTEN TAKE A FLAWED, INTERESTING, AND DEEPLY WOUNDED KIND OF PERSONALITY TO GET TO THAT PLACE OF SACRIFICE. IT RARELY A WHOLLY NOBLE PURSUIT.

AND HULK HATE TO BREAK IT TO YOU, BUT YOU ALSO MEET A LOT OF THESE HEROIC PERSONALITIES IN INNER CITIES.

AND OFTEN THEY IN GANGS.

The fact that a lot of Moses’ aggression is ill-directed and unsettling is underlined in every ragged exchange between Sam and Moses’ group, but Attack the Block at least has the courage to take these characters on their own terms, to present them without either condescending to them or hectoring the audience on their behalf.

But what about the monsters, eh?  Well, thankfully, the film gets them right as well:

There’s no flash to these fuckers, just a few well chosen shapes in the darkness and the threat of violence that is realised at exactly the right moment. Thinking about it, these multipurpose face munchers are a microcosm of the whole movie – they’re simple, functional, they make great use of their environment, but they can also take a bit of sociological weight if you want them to.

Not bad for a group of fresh faces and a director who first came to my attention when he was titting around with his toys back in the 90s then, eh?

18 Responses to “Notcomics: Attack the Block”

  1. Steve Peterson Says:

    I loved this film. I think it’s biggest problem is it was marketed as a comedy when it isn’t. Seen plenty of reviews which said it needed to be funnier. No it doesn’t.

    Is it just me or were the aliens a direct reference to the monster on the side of the original Space Invaders arcade cabinet?

    http://static.trustedreviews.com/7728a4|a464_6108-SpaceInvadersCabinet.jpg

  2. Gary Lactus Says:

    Sorry, that was me, not Steve Patterson who seems to have been using this computer.

  3. Zom Says:

    I think it probably was. Good call.

    People need to take the film on it’s own terms, for sure. I really enjoyed it – there were a couple pacing issue, I thought – but on the whole it’s very, very well done indeed. Brilliant first movie – keen to see what Joe does next

  4. Gary Lactus Says:

    Bad link. try:
    http://www.trustedreviews.com/opinions/the-10-most-important-games-ever_Page-2

  5. Thrills Says:

    I really enjoyed Attack the Block, for reasons outlined above. It did hammer home the “WE’RE NOT MONSTERS, WE’RE PEOPLE, SEE?” thing a bit much, but fuck, in the current social climate, that’s probably pretty necessary.

    My girlfriend works with the sort of young folks portrayed in the film, and as cynical as she is about the way kids are portrayed in the media, she seemed pretty pleased with Attack the Block. Which is good, I reckon (Though obviously my girlfriend is not the be-all and end-all arbiter of this sort of thing). Would quite like to know some kids’ opinions of it, really. I guess I could probably look aboot the internet to find some reviews, eh.

    The monsters were great – making them basically silhouettes was a simple and effective way of getting round any low-budget ‘realism’ problems with cgi monsters, as well as making them look cool as hell. They were amusing (glowing teeth!) but also savage as fuck and pretty damn scary.

    I also saw a James Nesbitt Edinburgh-set celtic myth horror thing recently (I cannae remember the name, gah! Outcast, maybe? Something uninspiring like that), and they got round low-budget cgi monster problems quite well in that, too. Good to see filmmakers thinking about this stuff, instead of making it all look like an episode of Primevil.

  6. Film Crit Hulk Says:

    HEY. IT FILM CRIT HULK, NOT DRUNK HULK!

    HULK JUST GIVE YOU HARD TIME. GOOD STUFF HERE. HULK SO HAPPY TO SEE FOLKS DELVE INTO ATB + THE MOSES CHARACTER.

    HULK THANK.

  7. Zom Says:

    Sorry, Hulk. We got it right in the blogroll!

  8. Illogical Volume Says:

    Film Crit Hulk – Oops! Looks like I got my Hulks crossed there, sorry!

    I’ve fixed it now, so if you could maybe not SMASH me then that’d be good.

    I’m glad you liked this piece – it’s built on the foundations of your good writing and the bad writing from the Daily Record, so you deserve a fair share of the credit here!

    Gary Lactus – Good catch on that! I remember you mentioning this at Kapow!, and like you said then, it’s not really an aesthetic that many people have went with!

    Zom – I’d be curious to know what your issues with the pacing were. I felt that the ending sped by a little too quickly, but I’d rather a movie felt too short than too long these days because the past ten years have been stuffed with over-long “blockbusters”.

    Thrills – while I’d consider your girlfriend to be the ultimate arbiter in all matters, I’d also like to hear what “the kids” would make of this film too.

    Definitely agree with you on the monsters – just goes to show what happens when you put a bit of thought into this sort of thing!

  9. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Sat in the pub yesterday, some guy literally exploded at his mate for mentioning that he wanted to see AtB. The guy was literally apoplectic about the film’s many perceived flaws, but chief among these was that we were supposed to empathise with ‘a bunch of criminals’. HHe really laboured this point claiming that the attempts to justify there behaviour were ‘pathetic’. He went sailing over the top – his mates all looked a bit embarassed at his frothing.

    Basically, it was pretty apparent that he was mainly uncomfortable with a bunch of young black protagonists. Sad but true. and pathetic. And embarassing.

    I told his mate to go and see it cos it was great.

  10. Zom Says:

    Uh, he hadn’t seen it? A dick.

    I can see why people (who have seen it) are worried about racial representation in the film, although I think their worries are misplaced.

  11. amypoodle Says:

    Was he a young child? I’m just trying to picture the kind of dick I’m dealing with here? I hate the way people who don’t normally give a shit about issues suddenly DO when race is involved. Like the age old argument about hip hop, where WASP males come over all feminist for ten minutes, when ordinarily they’re jogging off over Megan Fox….

  12. The Beast Must Die Says:

    No the guy HAD seen it. That’s why his outrage was so jarring.

  13. Megan Fox Says:

    WHAT THE F…?!

  14. Botswana Beast Says:

    Lads, a lesson:

    Megan Fox is a known comics fan. Known to love J Scott Campbell’s Gen13 and, erm. But you should’ve realised even the most famousest comics fans read the Mindless Ones, before casually tossing their names into comment threads.

  15. James W Says:

    @Lactus: Joe mentioned the Space Invaders cabinet at a Q&A screening I went to. TruFactus.

  16. Gary Lactus Says:

    Yes! I guessed right! I win a star!

    *

  17. 4thletter! » Blog Archive » A: “There’s still something you could do for me.” Says:

    [...] working in a similar lane, in that it humanizes what would normally be pure goons in other movies. David Allison over at the Mindless HQ talked about this in detail in the review that made me interested in the flick to begin with. Both Akira and Attack the Block [...]

  18. Exotic Dragonfruit Says:

    It seems more likely that Megan Fox has sort of read a comic a couple times, and it happened to be Gen13.

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