A rundown inner city 20 storey building becomes the target of vicious extra-terrestrials in the sci-fi/horror comedy Attack The Block. The film is the directorial debut of Joe Cornish, as in the comic double-act Adam & Joe, the former TV and current radio show presenters and all-round pop cultural deconstructionalists, and as such you might well be expecting it to be a spoofy and ironic take on its subject matter. Surprisingly though, it’s played pretty straight, with most of the generally very successful funny bits arising naturally from the characters and situations rather than through cheap references to other films. Also quite unexpected are both the level of horror and suspense, with some classic edge-of-the-seat moments and liberal splatterings of blood once the action gets going, and the skill with which your sympathies are manipulated towards a bunch of initially pretty unpleasant-seeming characters – underneath the B-movie trappings this is in many ways a highly accomplished film, and it gets bonus marks for coming in at under an hour and a half.
Cornish’s boldest step may be to make the heroes of his film a gang of teenage muggers, who are seen threatening a nurse with knives in an early scene. Their behaviour here is not excused or apologised for, and it makes for an interesting dynamic when later on their personalities come to the surface and they find themselves making the choice to use their facility with weapons to defend rather than menace other members of their community. The threat to them comes mainly from a swarm of shaggy and fluorescent-toothed aliens, who are surprisingly frightening given that they’re basically men in gorilla-style costumes, although there’s a subplot about an unsavoury drugs baron living in the tower block who also doesn’t have particularly benevolent intentions towards the teenagers. It’s very refreshing to see a monster movie that doesn’t rely on computer generated effects, and it’s unusual to get moments of tension this heightened in a plot where the basic trajectory is as clear as this one. The final resolution is neat and carefully set up, and the redemption of the lead character is earned.
Attack The Block is probably the best favourite horror/comedy I’ve seen since Shaun Of The Dead (which also featured Nick Frost, clearly channeling Danny the dealer from Withnail & I in the newer film), although there isn’t much of a direct comparison to be made: Shaun was basically an extended sitcom with added zombies, whereas Attack is horror with funny bits. Joe Cornish should be able to secure a bigger budget for his next project, and it’s to be hoped he doesn’t get so beguiled by Hollywood that he compromises on the script quality. On the evidence of this film he could be a major talent.