Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Attack the Block

I usually like to avoid directly comparing things to other things for too long, but sometimes they're so similar that it's hard to avoid. That's the situation with Attack the Block, which has a lot of things that make it different from Super 8 but they share enough of a core that I can't really ignore it. They're both science-fiction movies that introduce a likable group of kids in their natural environment, and then turn that environment upside down with a violent event that brings hostile aliens into the mix. Their influences seem pretty different, as Super 8 is sort of an homage to older family-friendly genre movies that happens to be a lot louder, while Attack the Block is much more of a straight-up horror movie. I liked Super 8 more, but Block is a very good film in its own right.

It starts with a small-time gang of teenagers mugging a young woman on some holiday in England before getting distracted by something crashing into a nearby car from the sky. The woman escapes, and Moses, the leader of the little gang, investigates the car and gets scratched up by a strange alien creature. They corner it in a shed and kill it, and then take it to show some other people they know, including Nick Frost as a charmingly detached tenant in their building who maintains a weed farm for a local criminal. While there they see more things crashing in the neighborhood, and gather some equipment up to go defend their block. Soon though they realize these aliens are much bigger and more dangerous than the first one, and all hell breaks loose as they try desperately to survive.

Like Super 8, Attack the Block builds up a good rapport between the main characters before anything really bad happens, making the emotional core of the rest of the film much stronger. It's a much quicker process since the movie is only a scant 85 minutes or so, but despite their criminal leanings, the kids have an enjoyable interplay amongst themselves and the film has a surprising amount of social commentary on how crummy upbringings and flaws in the system of law help create young scoundrels like them better than they deter it. It was kind of surprising to see a horror movie where underage people are actually the main victims, and because of how deftly they were made sympathetic, it's genuinely distressing sometimes to see what happens to them. It's also just a really effectively creepy and unique creature design, with the aliens being large, hair black masses with their only distinguishable feature being their mouths full of glowing teeth.

Joe Cornish has never written or directed a movie before, but he shows skill at both, deftly weaving together strong comedic moments with an effectively tense and exciting sci-fi horror atmosphere, and managing to tell a simple but strong story very quickly and effectively. I can see why he's started writing together with Edgar Wright, as both have a lot of talent at bringing together humor with competently handled genre elements. There were a few bit of the story that seemed a bit rushed through or too convenient, but taken on its merits and its limited scope, it's a very successful film. The kid actors are really good, and I really think there should just be more small experiments like this one happening all the time.

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