Young people these days with their music and their hoodies and their hip hop and their bad language and their muggings. This is exactly the kind of stereotype that Attack the Block is trying to smash; that today’s young people, particularly those of a certain class or economic background, are nothing but the bottom feeders of society. It’s a subject that gets perennially trawled through the media and causes plenty of debate that elicits a myriad of responses and opinions.
Moses (John Boyega) and his friends are typical tabloid fodder – a gang of youths who seemingly have nothing better to do than to cause trouble. When their mugging of the innocent Sam (Jodie Whittaker) gets interrupted by a strange explosion, the boys discover that its cause was of an extra-terrestrial nature. After killing the offending alien, they, along with Sam, posh stoner Brewis (Luke Treadaway) and drug dealing layabout Ron (Nick Frost), must protect their block from an impending alien invasion.
There is much to enjoy about Attack the Block; it never takes itself too seriously but also has a certain level of poignancy attached. There are some entertaining action scenes, most notably a chase sequence around the estate’s walkways, and the young actors, many of whom were plucked straight from local schools, do a fine job for the most part. The aliens themselves are an interesting departure from the usual other-wordly beings that visit our planet via the medium of film and give the film a slightly more unique flavour.
Despite all that is good, the message the film is trying to portray can sometimes feel a little muddled. We’re supposed to remember that not all young people are delinquents who go round causing trouble and that they actually have a lot to give to society. That would be all well and good if the film didn’t start with the heroic troupe mugging a woman and then chasing and brutally killing a reasonably defenseless alien. These aren’t particularly nice kids; they exhibit the exact kind of behaviour that gives young people like themselves a bad reputation. We’re also not really given much indication that they won’t revert to that type of behaviour in the future, just that people will start to see them in a better light. But why should we see them in a better light when they go round sticking knives to people and nicking their phones?
The script also suffers from cliché a few too many times and becomes all too predictable. Of course the kids and the woman they mugged are going to end up on the same side with a new found respect for each other; of course the misunderstood protagonist is going to become a hero; and of course the nasty dude is going to get his comeuppance. Also, how Brewis comes up with the solution for why the aliens are attacking them is somewhat absurd. There’s ‘plant and payoff’ but this is verging on deus ex machina territory.
Furthermore, there’s an issues with character development – not in the main cast but in some of the more peripheral characters. Ron and Brewis are clearly the film’s comic relief but, to be honest, it’s not a film where comic relief is needed – the main cast do a fine job themselves. As good as Nick Frost is as Ron, his character simply feels a little superfluous to requirements, and the same goes for Hi-Hatz, the local drug mafioso who thinks he owns the block. There’s a potential plot thread established early on with himself and Moses that never seems to go anywhere and feels like a missed opportunity to explore the characters a little more.
Attack the Block is an enjoyable film that has a lot going for it. For the most part, comedian-turned-filmmaker Joe Cornish’s script is witty and satirical and its young, raw cast come out of it very well; you do grow to root for them as the film develops, which is obviously its intention. However, it’s hardly going to change people’s perceptions of young people in today’s society, although, to be honest, it was never really likely to. As an alien invasion film it feels reasonably fresh, predominantly down to the aliens themselves, and should appease those looking for a more light-hearted take on the genre.
Words: Chris Thomson