SXSW FILM 2011
By Dirk Sonniksen | March 16, 2011
Director: Joe Cornish
Writer(s): Joe Cornish
Starring: Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, John Boyega
Set in England, Attack the Block begins with a woman walking down a seemingly abandoned street. Suddenly, thugs appear blocking her path, and as the woman attempts to maneuver around the gang, they descend upon her. As they do, something entirely different descends upon them. The woman escapes, and the thugs, dispatching the creature from the sky, skewer their prize, and off they go to their drug dealer’s house. Once they arrive, all manner of loony events begin to unfold, with more creatures, the woman’s reappearance, and other craziness.
I could spoil the film for you and ramble on with an extended synopsis, but honestly, it’s not worth it. Attack the Block had potential, but it lacked the one thing needed in any film—originality. Director Joe Cornish, who is a self-admitted lover of genre films, threw every conceivable film that influenced him into Attack the Block, including, but not limited to, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, The Warriors, American Werewolf in London, and the list goes on. Cornish had the SXSW midnight-to-capacity audience eating from his hands, but I could not feed at the trough.
I fully admit that I did not share the enthusiasm of the majority of moviegoers watching Attack the Block (yes, some seemed to me completely nuts; it’s just a movie, people), but I did want desperately to share in their glee. As a young man, I grew up watching many of the same movies that Cornish considers sacred, but unlike Cornish and the audience, I wanted something new to peak my interest. Every shot, camera angle, and joke seemed to be taken from other films, not verbatim obviously, but just too close to be anything I haven’t seen. As I sat in my coveted SXSW seat, I kept thinking, “that’s from ET, that’s from The Warriors, that creature is a hybrid of this or that,” and so on. I could have also used less English street slang from the gang of bad guys, that or subtitles might have eased some of my frustration trying to understand the dialogue.
I will give Cornish credit for shooting a very slick film and for taking the time to make each shot look, well, like a shot from another film. Add to that some excellent editing, a great soundtrack, and I can see where the genre-crazy fans loved Attack the Block. I also admired the way Cornish created the “block,” a place where the viewer definitely picks up that feeling of familiarity (a feat that is not easily done). I have no idea whether Cornish used a lot to shoot Attack the Block, or whether it was strictly location shots, but regardless, it was a very inviting setting, with that English vibe that a lot of us Americans yearn for when we grow weary of the states. That it was shot entirely at night was also a great look for the film.
Credit also goes out to the cast, in particular, John Boyega, who plays Moses, the drug-dealing guy who is caught in the lunacy of the evening. Jumayn Hunter also pulled off a great performance as Hi-Hatz, the leader of the street gang (although again, the accent and slang made the dialogue tough), as well as the other members of the gang. Kudos also go out to Jodie Whittaker for playing a great damsel in distress, who holds her own better than expected.
Attack the Block is Cornish’s directorial debut, and although some have commented on the “inventive” nature of the script, I fail to see anything new or inventive. Cornish does have a bright future as a director, but it would be nice to see him take on something that’s not an homage to the thrillers and cult classics of the 80s and 90s. It’s not that he should abandon these types of films, in fact, he’s got an eye for this kind of thing, but perhaps that eye could focus on more psychological thrillers, something more akin to case studies in madness; although Cornish is mainly a comedy guy, he would do well to delve into the creepy aesthetic. Attack the Block has a great look, but the overall effect falls flat—if I want The Lost Boys or similar, I’ll get it on Netflix.