The debut feature from Joe Cornish, of Adam and Joe fame, is a fast-paced Action/Adventure/Sci-fi mash-up about a gang of teen delinquents defending their South London tower block against an Alien invasion.
Recently graduated, underpaid nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is walking home to her council estate flat after a late shift, when she is mugged at knife-point by a gang of masked and hooded teenagers. The gang relieve her of her money and jewellery, just as a meteor crash lands beside them, enabling Sam to make her getaway. The meteor turns out to be an Alien, which first attacks gang leader Moses (the excellent John Boyega), injuring him in the process; and then flees pursued by the teen gang, out to get revenge. When the gang catch up with and kill the Alien, they bring it back to the tower block, little realising that the Alien onslaught is only just beginning.
From the production team that gave us Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and Paul; Attack The Block is a smart, savvy slice of film-making that ticks all the right genre boxes, while presenting the young, mixed-race Hoodies in a believable, non-patronising, non cringe-inducing way. The young cast is excellent and look as if they’re having a high old time. Coming across like a mixture of Alien, E.T. and Attack On Precinct 13, the film obviously relishes its genre antecedents, while also having a pop at some social commentary along the way. The comment Moses makes about his feeling that the government have somehow arranged the Alien invasion, because “black boys aren’t killing each other fast enough”, is pretty clunky but Cornish doesn’t overdo the heavy-handedness. The budget constraints show in the slightly disappointing Aliens, though Cornish more than makes up for this lack with a cracking script and a breakneck pace.
While Sam initially goes to the police to report the young thugs, pretty soon they’re teaming up as it becomes apparent that the gang are the only ones who can save the block, and possibly even the planet. Things get complicated however as local unhinged kingpin Hi-Hats (Jumayn Hunter) is also on their trail, after an earlier run-in with the gang; and Moses starts to realise the consequences of his earlier actions, as he begins to lose friends in the battle with the bloodthirsty Aliens.
Cornish also indulges his inner sci-fi geek, not only with movie references, but with a nice touch of naming the council estate towers after notable sci-fi writers, Wyndham, Clarke and Huxley. Attack The Block is an assured and likeable debut that doesn’t break any new ground, but is made with an infectious enthusiasm and obvious love for (mostly 1980s) genre films. The “Hoodies vs Aliens” conceit works a treat and the comedy flows naturally from the situations Cornish creates for his unlikely ASBO heroes. I’ll allow it.