If you’re planning to launch an alien invasion of Planet Earth, as anyone will tell you, there’s only one sensible way to go about it. First, position your fleet of Death Stars over every major global centre of government and launch a coordinated and devastating attack. Then send in ground troops to begin the systematic extermination of the leaderless and panicking survivors. You may now begin to suck the planet dry for its natural resources (although if it’s oil you’re after, you might be in for a bit of a disappointment; we’ve pretty much jumped the shark on that one..)
Interestingly, the aliens in Attack the Block, the hotly anticipated directorial debut by comedy boss Joe Cornish, chose to eschew convention and instead focus their invasionary attack on a council estate in Kennington. Well, you know, you do get so much more for your money south of the river don’t you.. and it’s only a short bus rides and you’re on the Northern Line.. and on a good day I can actually cycle in to work in about 40 minutes or so..
Unfortunately for them, the aliens in question reckoned without Moses, Pest, Dennis, Jerome and Biggz – the gang of hoodies who run that estate. They’re out and about ‘merking’ a young nurse when the first of the invaders appears out of the clear night sky and crashes into a nearby parked car. Without so much as batting an eyelid, the gang proceed to kick the living shit out of the “alien-wolf-gorilla-motherfucker” who’s trespassed on their turf and haul it’s lifeless body back to their tower block. As a second wave of extremely pissed off aliens land to search for their fallen comrade, the boys – armed only with knives, bats and illegally purchased fireworks – become the planet’s only hope against total annihilation. It’s got to be the weirdest and most fun idea for a sci-fi ever thought of.
The first time we encounter the gang, they’re essentially attacking a defenseless woman and it’s hard to feel any empathy towards them at all. Yet, as the film progresses, you can’t help but find yourself warming to them.
(‘Merking’, by the way, apparently now means ‘mugging someone at knife point’. I mainly remember the phrase from Rio Ferdinand’s World Cup Wind-ups, a 2006 hidden camera show on ITV where Ferdinand played Beadle’s About-style pranks on his fellow England teammates…“Oi Scholesy, it’s Rio! You’ve been merked bruv, you’ve been merked!!”)
So, I think I really liked this film. Joe Cornish has done an amazing job of making a big spectacular action film for what must have been a fraction of the typical Hollywood budget. My only slight quibble is that the aliens weren’t really scary enough – they kind of look like something you might win at a funfair. But all the stunts and the fights scenes could easily hold their own against anything Tony Scott could manage. It’s pretty inspiring really, that in a time of cuts and closures and enforced austerity, a first-time British director can pull off something as dazzling as this.
The cast are also excellent, particularly the five young actors – all newcomers – in the main roles. As he was researching the film, Cornish spent a lot of time visiting the estates and youth clubs of South London, talking to the kids there to ensure he got his characters and dialogue bang on, and it was during this process that he found his stars. Despite their collective lack of acting experience, they’re all really good I think, especially considering they’re playing pretty complex and ambiguous characters that would have been a challenge even for seasoned professionals.
The first time we encounter the gang, they’re essentially attacking a defenseless woman and it’s hard to feel any empathy towards them at all. Yet, as the film progresses, you can’t help but find yourself warming to them. Beneath all the swagger, street talk and bravado, they’re really just a bunch of funny and likable kids caught up in a big scary adventure – like a ghetto version of The Goonies.
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