As Tarantino once remarked, if you truly love cinema with all your heart you cannot make a bad film. His thinking is if you’ve watched enough movies, worshiped enough directors and know a steady cam from a dolly shot then you’ve learnt as much as film school can offer. It’s not always true, but in this case Joe Cornish has knocked out a directorial debut to rival recent firsts by Sean Byrne (The Loved Ones) and Gareth Edwards (Monsters).
Cornish has the right background and, indeed, the love. UK genre fans will know him for the long-running Adam And Joe show, late night cult comedy that often revelled in all strange and bizarre cinema. He’s also spent time working on the screenplay for the Spielberg’s new adaptation of Tintin, and has written Edgar Wright’s latest, Ant Man. The connection with Wright (who acts as Executive Producer here) will undoubtedly lead Attack The Block into comparisons with Shaun Of The Dead. Doing so is lazy, however. Yes, they’re both very British, both monster movies. But whereas SOTD paid homage to Romero, Attack The Block owes a debt to John Carpenter. Imagine Assault On Precient 13… with aliens.
From the off we hit the ground running, tracking nurse Jodie Whittaker through the back streets of London until she’s confronted and mugged by a gang of BMX riding, hood wearing teen thugs. But they’re not the only thing on the prowl; an monkey-like creature takes a chunk out of leader Moses, and after a pursuit into a playground they corner and kill the beast, dragging it back to their estate with the intention of impressing girls, and with no more ambition than to get wasted in the apartment of local dealer Nick Frost. And that’s when the real problems start, as green meteorites start falling from the sky and hitting their turf.
It would have been easy for Cornish to stick his story and sympathies with Whittaker, but instead he keeps focus with the gang. At first frightening – particularly newcomer John Boyega, who is outstanding as Moses – as we hang out with them a strange thing happens; we start to like this ragtag group of wasters. The language and mannerisms Cornish has put on film are absolutely spot on, a snapshot of current British youth that was previously handled badly in inferior offerings like Eden Lake or F. These kids do nothing but talk, scattergun words and phrases – Bruv, truth, trust, believe, bare that, ghost the other – that you may not understand at first but you’ll be quoting come the credits. Rumours are that this will be subtitled for an American market, but that’s ridiculous. The context of the film and the immersion in this world are all the translation that’s required. When Whittaker re-enters the story in one of several balls-out action sequences it’s the moment that turns our zeros to heroes, dragging her out the back of a police van while under attack from the bulky, leaping aliens, a marvel of simplistic design with their ink-black fur contrasting against blue neon fangs. From then on the movie hits top gear, the gang barely making it back into the block before tooling up to protect their friends and the concrete jungle they call home.
There’s a lot of influences on show here, but Cornish doesn’t mind showing them and if you love this stuff you’ll appreciate it. The tower block the gang inhabit is named after sci-fi invasion author John Wyndham; music cues are straight out of Carpenter’s playbook; the aliens and their attacks reminiscent of American Werewolf In London. There’s also a heavy streak of black comedy, which you’d expect from Cornish’s background, but while the laughs are there this is often played serious, particularly in the final third when aliens and gang meet head-on with surprising, and shocking results. The low-budget is occasionally obvious, with characters running away from a menace you suspect they couldn’t afford to create, but overall Cornish has created a cracking little sci-fi-horror flick with heart, ambition and big ideas realised in a skinny 85 minutes.
Best of all, this doesn’t compromise or wimp out on his audience; No characters are safe, the climax doesn’t take you where you expect, and there‘s no tacked-on coda leading to a quick sequel. By taking cues from the cinema he (and we) have grown up with, adding a brilliant cast of newcomers, sharp writing and a great visual eye – a stunning slow-motion sequence will have you grinning – Cornish has created one of the most entertaining genre films in recent times. See it, and be prepared for Attack The Block to become your new favourite film. For real, Bruv.