Notes On A Film: Attack The Block

Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish have been part of pop culture commentary since the days of their delightfully homemade television programme, The Adam & Joe Show, the highlight of which was the re-creations of films with soft toys. They continue to amuse and entertain with their BBC 6 Music radio show on Saturday mornings. The fact that Joe Cornish has written and directed his own film, and that it is really good, is still mind-boggling.

This is a great debut from a man who knows and loves films, but there are no homages or nods to other films. This is very much a film that exists on its own terms, in its own right (even if there is a sense of Spielberg that haunts the background, as Cornish brings the same awe and wonder to an alien incursion but in south London and a slightly bleaker worldview).

The basic premise: an alien drops to Earth near a south London estate where a group of boys are mugging a nurse. They beat the alien to death, and return home to recover. However, more aliens land on Earth and they are a lot bigger and nastier than the first alien, and the council block comes under attack. The boys have to fight back.

The film is scary without being excessively horrific (although there is a fleeting gruesome special effect) and it has humour but not in a parodying fashion – it’s a serious film about serious alien monsters but the laughs come through character and situation. There are parallels with Shaun of the Dead – both have a sense of their part of London, both take the material seriously but have humour in them, both have Nick Frost and same producing partners, and both have tight plots that set up elements that play out later (such as the flat on the block that has a large Union Flag, or one of the kids who pretends to have a limp in front of his gran so he can take a weapon out of his flat). However, apart from both being very good films, they are separate entities.

Everything in the film (apart from the aliens, obviously) feels real – Cornish lives in south London, and he was mugged by teenagers, which inspired the start of the movie, and spent time ‘procuring jazz-related herbs’ (as he described it in this interview in The Guardian) on Wandsworth estates in his youth (one of the characters, a middle-class white young man who visits the block for weed, could be a Cornish stand-in), so he knows the place and the setting intimately, and it shows. It rings of authenticity, which emphasises the alien element, and allows the alien element to play out in a believable world.

Attack The Block is well filmed and well acted – the kids are really good and the slang they use sounds just right (I live in south London and the teens sound like that); there is no concession to the slang used but it isn’t impenetrable. Also, the film has something to say about the attitude towards these kids on estates, saying something interesting about hoodies as human beings and not just Daily Mail headlines.

Attack The Block is a really good film – it’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s genuine, it’s well done and everyone on screen does a good job. It’s a great debut film and it promises good things from Cornish in the future; I guess that means we’ll have to live without the excellent radio show if he becomes a full-time filmmaker.

Rating: DAVE

[Explanation of my updated film rating system]

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