Attack the Block

Joe Cornish’s slick directorial debut is gripping and funny - if you like The Goonies, you'll love this

Attack The Block opens with a night sky full of twinkling stars, one of them becoming brighter and falling fast. As the shot cranes down to Earth, the viewer follows trainee nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) stepping out of a tube station, a short walk from her tower block home in south London. A gang of masked teens cut across her path and, in a frightening ordeal, rob her of purse and ring at knifepoint.

Moments later, gritty realism turns to sci-fi fantasy when the gang are distracted by a fireball meteorite. Before long, the hooded youths will have inadvertently turned their turf into an intergalactic battleground by savagely attacking the extra-terrestrial that ‘landed in the wrong area’.

Although Attack the Block is his first feature film, director Joe Cornish first cut his teeth as a comedy writer and performer in television with the Adam & Joe Show in which he, along with his long-time comedy partner Adam Buxton, filmed homages to Star Wars and Trainspotting using stuffed toys and action figure stop-motion.

Cornish finds inspiration for Attack The Block's rabble of no-hope youths in similar places. The gang's leader, Moses (John Boyega), for instance, has a touch of Escape From New York's maverick protagonist, Snake Plisskin about him. And the John Carpenter comparisons don't end there, with Attack The Block's impending horror and a killer instrumental soundtrack by an uncharacteristicly brooding Basement Jaxx.

With nice pacing courtesy of editor Jonathan Amos (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Attack The Block - at just under 90 minutes - never feels rushed. The inner-city tower block - with its walkways that become the under siege battleground - are beautifully shot.

Cornish should also be commended for the creation of his non-CGI aliens: large, feral gorilla beasts, with glow-in-the-dark teeth and razor-sharp claws that don't discriminate against major and minor characters to keep up the threat level.

However, the depth of the characters in the block has to be questioned (rappers, drug dealers, kids with knives, posh boy buying weed), and the tower block itself lacks any life or personality. In one scene, the boys attempt to call for help but come up against their fiscal problems: ‘I’ve only got one text left!’ exclaims Jerome. ‘This is too much madness to explain in one text!’

That said, putting any socio-political message aside, Attack The Block is bloody good fun. Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Paul) has a few good one-liners, but is put in the shade by the young, inexperienced actors cast as the hooded delinquents armed to the teeth with swords, knives and fireworks.

Alex Esmail, in his acting debut, is outstanding as the motormouth Pest, whose natural ability in parkour comes in handy when running away from the 'bear creatures'.

When it’s funny, it’s hilarious; likewise the horror is proper face-and-throat-ripping scary. Where Cornish has excelled is in creating a stylish, enjoyable film reminiscient of impressionable 1980s classics.

Attack The Block's aliens have the dark menace of Joe Dante's Gremlins and the south London kids’ language is not unlike the brattish profanities heard from the Astoria kids in The Goonies. If you ever found yourself saying ‘they don’t make them like that anymore’, well, Joe Cornish just has. Believe, bruv!

View the Attack The Block trailer below. Screenings begin at Queen's Film Theatre from Friday 13 May. Check What's On for details of further screenings.