Attack the Block

Fireworks explode across London. (It’s Guy Fawkes day/bonfire night.) A young woman (Jodie Whittaker) comes out of the Underground and is chatting with her mother on her cellphone. As she gets closer to her apartment block, she notices that a group of teens – many dressed in hoodies – have appeared in her path. Soon they surround her. The “leader” of the group, Moses (John Boyega), robs her at knifepoint. She only escapes because something from the sky comes crashing into a nearby car. She runs off, but the gang leader, thinking again of profit, climbs inside and begins to search for goods. It is then that he is attacked by something. It scratches his face and escapes. Angry at the assault, the thugs pursue it, and beat it to death. Proud of their kill, they carry it like a trophy to the apartment of their neighborhood drug pusher and gang leader. Their objective is to sell it online. But little do they know, they have just opened up a shit can of trouble. Many more of these aliens – “black wolf-gorilla mother f*ckers” – descend to South London, and they are angry. Hoping to save themselves and their “block,” the gang members go into full assault mode, arming themselves with a samurai sword, guns, and fireworks/rockets. Who will win in this battle of inner city vs. outer space?

Written and directed by Joe Cornish, Attack the Block has a retro sound and feel to it, and many have said that it captures the spirit of John Carpenter’s early films. I would agree with the “sound” part of that comparison. The electronic soundtrack, created by Steven Price, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe, sounds like a marriage between Carpenter’s The Thing – Ennio Morricone did most of the music – and any number of tunes composed by Harold Faltermeyer. The soundtrack is actually the best part of Attack the Block. As far as any other comparisons to be made between Cornish’s films and those of Carpenter, well, let’s just say, I’m not seeing it. But then I disliked this film so much that I was probably too blinded by rage to have seen the similarities.

Before I go into full attack mode, I will mention one additional thing that I liked about it: The aliens. These didn’t have your bog standard ovoid heads, grey bodies, and black, soulless eyes. The creatures themselves were large, black and furry, and when they opened their mouths, you could see that they had rows upon rows of sharp, glowing teeth. When their mouths were closed, just enough of their “lips” curled up so that their glowing teeth looked like glowing eyes. Very impressive and innovative those aliens, but then according to IMDB, the creature effects designer was Mike Elizalde; a guy who frequently collaborates with Guillermo del Toro. Need I say more?

Now, for the unleashing … (SPOILERS AHEAD ***) Many things about this film bothered/disturbed/angered me. First off, it is essentially a glorification of antisocial behavior. The main characters are a bunch of thugs without any socially redeeming features whatsoever. Some people who love this film claim that Moses undergoes a transformation by the end. How does he do this? He becomes a hero by doing what? Saving his block from aliens that HE pissed off in the first place? Come and follow me on something I like to call the logic train: Let’s assume that Brewis (Luke Treadaway), that smart, rich, pot-smoking, rap-listening, white stereotype of a character, is right. That these aliens are like spores that travel on some kind of cosmic wind, following the female’s scent so that they can procreate. (How this even makes sense is beyond me.) That, we are assuming, is their raison d’etre. OK, so here is this thug. He is trying to loot a car when he startles the female alien. She is, no doubt, terrified and attacks him out of instinct. (You know, like any animal.) She flees. Rather than let her go, Moses wants her to pay. So he and his mates pursue her. Once she is cornered, they beat her to death, and Moses drags her body through South London, thereby getting her scent on his clothing. If he had refrained from his criminal impulses in the first place, she probably wouldn’t have scratched him. If he had let her flee, he never would have gotten her scent on him. AND then those male aliens probably wouldn’t have started killing anyone. By the time that the film ends, the actions of this ONE senseless act of violence has resulted in the death of at least two police officers, the gang leader’s bodyguard, a few of Moses’ mates … oh, and an apartment floor has been blown up. So how is Moses a hero again? He is responsible for everything that transpired in his block. HE is responsible for it. Therefore, he’s just cleaning up his own mess. He is not a hero. He remains a thug. Period. (I’m a bit insulted, actually, that he’s named Moses. Is this supposed to be a guy who leads his people out of bondage? Bollocks.)

Cornish tries to elicit our sympathy for Moses, by showing how this teenager lives in a small apartment with his absent uncle, as if that somehow justifies the 15-year-old’s antisocial behavior. What’s worse, the film tries playing the “race card,” by having Moses talk about how the aliens were probably sent into the block as a way to get rid of the people living there. Because after all, it was the government/police/whitey who sent in the drugs and the guns, and then, apparently because the “block” residents weren’t dying off fast enough, they sent in the aliens to finish up the job. Come on. Did anyone force Moses to smoke weed? Befriend the drug dealer? Hold up the woman at knifepoint? Loot that car? Beat an alien to death? It’s the same old bullshit passing the blame to someone else game, without ever taking a hard look at how you contributed to your situation. Why are the police “harassing” these teens? Gee, I don’t know, because they mug people, loot cars, sell drugs, and overall act as a menacing threat to the neighborhood. I didn’t find any of these characters to be likable or even sympathetic. In fact, I was hoping that the aliens would get their revenge and kill every last bloody one of them.

What I found to be even more disturbing was the fact that the film uses two children – both about 8 years old – as comic relief. How are they funny? Well, they are gangsta wannabes, for a start, who go by the names of Mayhem (Michael Ajao) and Probs (Sammy Williams). And to demonstrate how “bad” they are, they fill a super soaker with, I’m assuming gasoline, and after dousing one of the aliens with the liquid, shoot an incendiary device into it. Wow, something I would really love to see second graders living in my neighborhood do. The fact that these children can think up solutions such as this one … disturbs me. What such young children are doing, running around at night, completely unsupervised is beyond me. The whole thing is just WTF in motion.

What’s worse yet is the fact that the woman who is mugged at the beginning of the film gets victimized all over again by these thugs. Trying to escape the aliens, they bust into her apartment and order her to fix up their wounded friend, Pest (Alex Esmail), the only white kid in their gang. They terrorize her, treating her without any respect or decency. In fact, at one point, I wondered if they were going to rape and/or murder her. Then we are supposed to go “awww” when Pest starts chatting her up. I think we’re supposed to hope that she and Moses get together, too, but frankly why she would want anything to do with any of these losers is beyond me. And why she hooks up with them at all is simply ridiculous.

I’m sure fans of Attack the Block will respond to my complaints, by saying “come on, it’s only a movie. It’s harmless fun.” I don’t agree. After it ended, I was angry. And when I was telling my husband about the film, those feelings just intensified. It tries to make some kind of racial statement, but fails miserably, probably because it’s a white director trying to make it. And in some places, I even felt that the film was misogynistic. (Notice that the two victims are white females.) People who love this film obviously haven’t thought much about it. It’s a disturbing, vile piece of celluloid that makes me want to hurt its creator.

Author: Julien R. Fielding

Julien R. Fielding has been reviewing films, and covering the entertainment industry, for more than a decade. Her favorite genres are sci-fi, horror, action, and anime. She authored the book, Discovering World Religions at 24 Frames Per Second.

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