‘Attack The Block’ Takes The Nostalgic Tone of ‘Super 8′ In A Darker, More Distinctive Direction
After seeing Super 8 earlier this summer, I praised J.J. Abrams for his restoration of a unique genre born out of the 1980s; a genre which specialized in pitting pre-teens against impossible odds. Much of this fell under the production of Amblin Entertainment, or films that took heavy inspiration from that company; movies like Goonies, E.T., and The Monster Squad, to name a few. It seems, though, that this summer Abrams wasn’t alone in his yearning to revisit this era in filmmaking.
This past week, I was fortunate enough to catch an advanced screening of another film involving young adolescents and alien invaders called Attack The Block. This UK production, produced by Edgar Wright and directed by his Adventures of Tintin writing partner, Joe Cournish, takes a far more aggressive, less family-friendly approach than Abrams’s Super 8. While viewing it, I was instantly reminded of another popular 1980s adolescent action sub-genre consisting of movies that, although similar to the work being put out by Amblin, operated on lower budgets and contained a more twisted approach to their material, movies such as Gremlins and Critters.
Unlike Abrams, Cournish seems less interested in paying homage and more interested in adding to the genre. Attack the Block takes place in present day London, and is concerned with class divide among people from various walks of life all living in the same ghetto apartment complex, aka “the block.” The film opens on a young woman, Sam (Jodie Whitaker), being mugged by a group of teenage hoodlums. In the middle of the robbery, an alien creature plummets out of the sky and crashes into a nearby car.
Given one’s knowledge of how films like this typically play out, one could safely assume that this alien distraction will soon make short work of the thugs and allow the victim to escape unharmed for the time being. Instead, Cournish defies our expectations. The hoodlums, fascinated with the creature, seek it out and then proceed to kill it. As the credits role, the teen criminals celebrate their kill, not knowing that hordes of its brothers and sisters, hell-bent on avenging the deceased, will soon descend upon them. Much to our surprise, these supposed teen punks led by the stoic Moses (newcomer, John Boyega), become our heroes. Battling the creatures alongside Sam, and various other members of “the block,” the kids atone for their past crimes by protecting those they once terrorized.
While Attack The Block isn’t particularly groundbreaking, nor outstanding, there’s also nothing all together wrong with the film. Cournish proves a talented writer/director, interchanging successful comedy with scenes of nail-biting tension. The score, composed and performed almost entirely by Basement Jaxx, effortlessly establishes the film’s pace and tone, working with a near-constant dub-step beat that plays in between more emotive, orchestral moments.
One element in particular that I feel most deserves praise is the creature design. I’m normally not one to concern myself with the quality of special effects and monster make-up, because I have very little personal understanding of the nuances of such work. However, Cournish’s less-is-more approach creates more than just an aesthetic for the creatures, but an aesthetic for the film in general. There are virtually no discernible details one can make out of the creatures’ physical appearance other than their teeth are neon green. Beyond that they are pure black, creating a far more intriguing design than the aliens that have appeared in recent Spielberg and Abrams features. When the creatures are clustered together it’s impossible to tell where one creature ends and another begins. They are essentially a black and neon green mass, serving not only as antagonists for the film, but also as part of its production design. It’s these glimmers of innovation that keep Cournish’s movie from falling exclusively into the category of homage piece.
If Super 8 is the new E.T., then it seems safe enough to say that Attack The Block is the new Critters. Yet while Super 8‘s only function was to pay tribute, down to it taking place in 1979, Attack The Block originates from a purer mindset of filmmaking. It’s overarching goal isn’t to quote, pay homage or reinvent the genre, but simply to successfully continue its legacy.