This weekend, I finally managed to see Attack the Block, just before it finishes its run here in the UK. I’ll be honest – every instinct in me was telling me I wouldn’t like it. Why would I want to see a film that seemed to be aimed so blatantly not at me? If I wanted to watch a drama about a council block in South London, riddled with drugs and violence, surely I’d watch (or not) a Channel 4 documentary and not spend a lot of money to see it unfold on a cinema screen? Well, I’ve learned my lesson. Just as all good cinema should challenge our preconceptions and confront our prejudices, Attack the Block was an unexpected treat. It’s been a while since I’ve laughed so much at the movies.
Director and writer Joe Cornish has pulled off something very special with Attack the Block – sympathies are thrown on their head. When a gang of youths mugs a young nurse on the streets of South London, it’s pretty clear where our sympathies lie but in the next instant a creature from space crashes onto a car. Moses (John Boyega) and his gang takes off after it and Moses finishes it off. And then all hell lets loose. From this time on, Moses, Pest (Alex Esmail), Jerome and the others work on us. They become individuals, even heroes, not masked yobs. Their bicycles and pizza delivery scooters become their chariots.
Through circumstances rather than choice the mugged nurse (Jodie Whittaker) joins forces with the muggers, who slowly understand that she is their neighbour on the block and no better off than them, and she, like us, learns to know the gang as people, albeit people with very real problems. Everyone is in the same boat now. The monsters, and they are scary, are blacker than black. Their only noticeable feature is a mouth of fluorescent fangs. Looking out for each other, risking their own lives, it’s not long before you’re rooting for our motley crew.
In addition, we have Nick Frost who looks after the drug den on the top floor, the most secure place on the block, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) controls the block and every drug sold on it. Luke Treadaway is Brewis, the middle class pothead who knows all about zoology and the mating habits of extra terrestrials from University. Handy during an alien crisis. This means that while we are taught that our muggers may have a heart buried deep down (ready to be brought out next time there’s an alien invasion), there are plenty of laughs along the way. They’re not at anyone’s expense either.
Add a stonking soundtrack by Basement Jaxx, some ingenious monster creation, and a sharp script that just gets away with it without a glossary, and Attack the Block is a film to relish. Admittedly, I’m even more wary of council blocks now than I was before…