Director Joe Cornish’s debut feature, Attack the Block, does for alien invasion movies what Shaun of the Dead did for zombie films. With Hollywood still demolishing planet Earth in big, brash blockbusters like Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles Cornish’s film is a little more intimate and a lot more enjoyable. The idea is so thunderingly simple - voracious carnivorous aliens descend upon a Sarf London tower block defended by a motley gang of hoodies and druggies - it’s hard to believe no-one’s done it before. But where Shaun of the Dead was a resolutely white, middle-class fantasy, Attack the Block is a harder sell with its predominantly young black cast, its sometimes baffling urban patois and the simple fact that the main protagonists are introduced to the audience as a bunch of nasty, knife-wielding thugs who carry out a terrifying mugging at the very start of the film. Incredibly, Cornish somehow manages to subvert our expectations and our prejudices and over the course of the film the gang become likable heroes as we begin to realise that they're really just a bunch of deprived kids acting big and grown-up and doing a pretty decent job of saving the world (or at least their grim little bit of it).
The gang are mid-mugging when an alien drops from the sky and demolishes a car. Recently-qualified nurse Sam (Whittaker), the ertswhile mugging victim, does a runner and the gang investigate and finds a ferocious furry alien complete with fluorescent gnashers; Moses (Boyego) quickly dispatches the creature, straps its corpse to his back and parades around the estate with his kill. But before long the estate is bombarded with more and more ferocious aliens dropping out of the sky. The gang retreat to their tower block and prepare to do battle armed only with a few fireworks and their street savvy.
Attack the Block isn't exactly a comedy - even though there are some cracking one-liners which raise a chuckle if never a belly-laugh - and it's not exactly a horror film. There's a bit of discrete gore here and there but the film's more concerned with exciting its audience in a number of pulsating chase sequences with the kids biking and rushing around the corridors of the tower and walkways of the estate, with the genuinely scary aliens - a sort of a cross between an ape and a werewolf - in very hot pursuit. Cornish handles the action sequences with enormous confidence; he's clearly steeped in this sort of stuff and he's relishing every minute of bringing his quirky, pacey story to life. He's helped enormously, of course, by decent production values which bely the film's modest budget; the aliens really are something a bit different, worlds away and worlds more effective than the unreal CGI creations the Hollywood machine churns out. One particular sequence, showing the aliens swarming along the outside of the tower block as they lay seige to its baffled occupants, is stunningly-realised and oddly breath-taking.
Considering they're the backbone of the movie's narrative, the cast of largely-unknown and untested kids acquit themselves well and the charismatic Boyega is particularly impressive as the moody, brooding Moses. Jodie Whittaker as Sam is our identification figure - 'hey, these kids really aren't all that bad' - and while it's always good to see Nick Frost his stoned slacker character is getting a bit tired now.
Attack the Block marks Joe Cornish (previously best-known for his ongoing comedy partnership with Adam Buxton) as a name to watch out for in British cinema, the most exciting new director since Edgar Wright made the leap from TV with Shaun. Whilst Attack the Block isn't quite as accomplished and downright joyous as Shaun, it's certainly the best and most inventive British genre movie since Simon Pegg and co battled against the Finsbury Park zombie invasion. Attack the Block is a breath of fresh air and is hugely recommended.
Expected rating: 7 out of 10