Friday, August 5, 2011
Signal Watch Watches: Attack the Block
A while back SimonUK mentioned he'd somehow already seen Attack the Block at a festival, and vouched for it, stating that when it came to Austin this summer, we really needed to go see it. Some of the producers and talent involved are from the group that brought us Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, some loving takes on familiar genres, infused with smart-alec humor and a fan's know-how enough to both play with conventions and know what's important about retaining some of those conventions. But all without getting too precious, I think.
Attack the Block does not, I repeat, does not feature Simon Pegg, but I promise you it is still a very good movie.
Before the credits even roll, we get an idea of what the film is about. A young nurse heading back to her apartment in a huge apartment block in South London runs into a gang of teenagers who are already little thugs on their way to becoming a much bigger problem at some point. While they're holding her up at knife point (these are not nice kids) a meteor smacks into a car nearby. The nurse, Sam (played convincingly by Jodie Whittaker), runs off and the thugs find an alien inside the car, which bites their "leader", Moses (John Boyega) before running off.
Moses and his crew follow the alien to a shed where they proceed to kill the thing. And that's all before the title drops.
Soon, the kids see more meteors falling from the sky all around their apartment block (the same enormous block that they didn't realize they shared with Sam), and, gleefully, the gang decides its going to go kill all the aliens. And, things get out of hand.
Hearing "the boys decide to go and kill the aliens" seems a little cheeky, but getting the impulsive, goofy nature of kids this age (even dangerous kids) is part of what the movie does so well. The boys are big enough (around 14-15) where they are a physical threat and on the verge of making important decisions, but they're still young enough where they're basically kids. And the movie does a fairly good job of understanding that you're mostly enthusiasm and adrenaline at that particular age, but can have a complete lack of common sense.
There may be some confusion due to the age of the stars, etc... This isn't Goonies or a PG-13 romp. While, yeah, its funny and clever and all that, its also rated-R for typical horror monster movie violence, mayhem and language. So, be ready for blood splatters, alien gore, etc... But, yeah, its really pretty funny, too.
The creature design is seemingly simple but pretty great, and made all the more so by the fact that 95% of the FX are practical in the movie, with CG used sparingly. I suppose the aliens are folks in suits, but their silhouettes pass for alien-ish much more than "man in suit". Its sad that's become a "feature" for a movie now, just to have someone actually build a creature or two, but there you have it.
In the same summer that saw Super 8, which I liked a lot, this movie is less nostalgic for suburban coming-of-age stories and more of an unsentimental homage to monster movies starring kids who are the age where a lot of us first started watching those flicks to begin with. Of the two, this is the one I'll remember more for what it wanted to do as per showing us something a bit new, making heroes out of characters that mostly want to be anything but. No, its not a stunningly original movie, but I don't expect that anymore. These days I'm looking for great execution, and that I got.
Taking place all in one night (of course!), the energy of the film pretty much never lets up (after all, there are scary monsters afoot), with a great soundtrack/ score of euro-beats. You're going to hear a lot about this movie's stylized, clever dialog, and its all deserved. Don't be too shocked to hear fans of the movie insisting "Believe!" as their rallying cry to get others out to the cinema, adopting the unforgettable neighborhood slang of the main characters. The kids react as kids, and the few adults aren't in any better position to assist. But little moments of the kids wrestling with how many texts they've got left to broadcast their situation is just gold.
Get on out there. Give it a shot. Its an instant cult classic, and I was thrilled to see the theater at the Alamo I was in packed on a Thursday night, and I hope other cities pick the movie up as well.