First we had kids making nice with big bad aliens in 'Super 8,' then we had some buckaroos breaking out their lassoes and wrangling 'em some outer-space invaders in 'Cowboys & Aliens', and here we are with our third movie of the year about extraterrestrials screwing things up for us humans in 'Attack the Block.' It's the least publicized of the three, there's a good chance you haven't even heard of it, and you might have a hard time finding a theater that's playing it even if you do want to check it out.
For a sub-genre that was getting a tad too familiar for its own good as of late, it's nice to get a breath of fresh air from that knows what it's doing and does it well. Go right ahead check our thoughts on the best alien-invasion movie you'll find this weekend.
What's It About?
'Attack the Block' is about a group of British teenage punks who witness an alien crash through the roof of a nearby car while they're mugging an unarmed woman on the street. Being that they're a group of British teenage punks, they go ahead and kill the alien for no good reason before parading it around their apartment complex for everyone to see. But then a whole lot more aliens crash down in the area, they're thrice as big and thrice as lethal as the first one, and since they're apparently hell-bent on locating the whereabouts of their late alien friend, that leads them to go on a killing rampage that continually leads them right to the British teenage punks. As the body count rises and the alien horde gets closer by the minute, the British teenage punks put down their joints and pick up whatever household weapons they can find in order to save themselves and their block.
So It's Another Alien-Invasion Movie?
Yeah, between this, 'Cowboys & Aliens' and 'Super 8,' we've definitely gotten our fair share of intergalactic monster movies these past couple months. And while it's probably closer to 'Super 8' since it's about a group of kids fighting off aliens, this thing is operating on a very different level. Yes, it's way more "British" than those two and its budget definitely wasn't as big, but it really is something else entirely in the best ways possible.
As great as this cast is, a big reason why this movie works as well as it does is due to writer/director Joe Cornish. He sets this thing at a rapid-fire pace, he knows how to film great action scenes that put us on the edge of our seats, he knows how to get us cowering like infants waiting for something to scare the bejeezus out of us, and he even knows how to make us laugh.
From the moment we heard that he'd worked with Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg and is co-writing (with Wright) the scripts for the upcoming 'Ant-Man' and 'The Adventures of Tin-Tin,' we should have known that Cornish was the man. Not that we ever doubted him, but it's nice to be on the bandwagon.
And on top of that, the aliens look incredible. These days, it's hard to find a movie where the otherworldly creatures don't look like rehashed versions from other movies, and considering how many aliens we've been getting treated to lately, that's just bad business. That said, we dig these creatures. They're essentially pitch-black gorillas that can scream real loud and have glow-in-the-dark chompers. But as simple as that description might sound, they really do look quite different from the ETs we're used to seeing. All it took, apparently, was some simplification and the realization that not all aliens need to look like tripods.
How's the Cast?
Out of sight.
The only familiar face here is Nick Frost, in typically hilarious form as a weed dealer named Ron, but the rest of this lot are made up of either first-timers or up-and-comers we've never seen before. Sometimes that can be a bad thing, but not here -- these are some of the best characters we've seen all year, due largely to the kids who play them.
John Boyega is so quiet, so cool, and so fitting as the main character, Moses; Alex Esmail is a total rip as his firework-junkie friend, Pest; and the same goes for Luke Treadaway as the pothead outsider of the group, Brewis. These three stand out from the largely excellent ensemble, and we can't wait to see more of them in the future. These kids don't feel like actors -- it's like they're playing themselves, which we mean in the best way possible. Credit to Cornish for not trying to pretend that teens don't swear or smoke marijuana.
But the thing is, when we first meet these kids, they embrace the stereotype of teenage thugs who victimize people for fun and raise hell with complete disregard for the consequences of their actions. They're totally unlikable and you almost wish the aliens would show up already and tear these punks a new one, which, oddly, is the very thing that makes their eventual growth so fantastic. The kicker isn't that we come to realize we had them all wrong, but rather watching them realize that being thieving, bloodthirsty punks is the very thing that got them into this mess in the first place and the only way they're going to get out alive is to change their ways for the better.
We weren't expecting this movie to have much to "say" on any front, but the fact that it ended up being pretty deep in ways most non-alien-invasion movies can't even get their heads around is what makes this movie much more than just mindless entertainment. Most alien-invasion movies are more or less thrill rides that go heavy on the action and suspense at the cost of depth and genuine character development. But every once in a while, you come across a movie that pulls an 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' managing to kill it on both fronts and come awfully close to breaking the mold.
This is one of those movies.
What If I Couldn't Understand a Word They Said in the Trailer?
Don't worry, you'll get it. With the exception of how much these kids keep on about playing 'FIFA,' this is as accessible as British movies get for an American audience. You won't even notice the slang after the first five minutes.
Is it Worth Seeing?
It's a shame that this isn't getting the same kind of wide release that 'Cowboys & Aliens' is, because this is the alien-invasion movie worth seeing. It's some of the most fun we've had in the theater all year. After a somewhat slow start, once the aliens show up, 'Attack the Block' kick-starts like gangbusters and only gets outrageously better until the end credits, when we felt like jumping out of our seats to high-ten everyone in reach. It's one of those movies that left us grinning like idiots and flat-out elated when we walked out of the theater, and it gets major bonus points for being so much more than just popcorn fluff.
8/10 British Invasions
Photos courtesy of Sony.